Archive for Thursday, October 10, 2002

Hometown girl’ to head Chamber, EDC

October 10, 2002

A prolonged search for a new person to head De Soto's economic development activities ended when a local woman agreed to take the reins of both De Soto Chamber of Commerce and the De Soto Economic Development Council.

"I think it's a challenging opportunity for me," Sara Ritter said. "I'm a hometown girl. It's going to be great to promote my community."

De Soto Chamber of Commerce President Betty Cannon said she was eager for Ritter to assume her duties. The dual position had been vacant since May when Marge Morse resigned to take a job in the city clerk's office.

"We're real fortunate to find someone with her experience and contacts," she said

For 10 years, Ritter worked with the Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corp., which recruits industry to Johnson County's New Century AirCenter and the city of Gardner. When John Engelmann left his position as executive director of that agency to take a similar job with Aquila Economic Development Corp. in July 2001, he successfully lobbied Ritter to join him.

The two jobs not only provided her hands-on experience in wooing and landing commercial and industrial clients, but it also introduced her to people that can help her at De Soto, Ritter said.

"There are quite a few resources I can tap into," she said. "Economic development is all about networking."

The Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corp. did a number of things in partnership with Gardner that could be emulated here, Ritter said. One example is a targeted industry study that identified telecommunications, printing and warehouse operations as the types of businesses on which Gardner should focus its economic efforts. The city worked to align its incentive program with those targeted industries.

"It's definitely something we should look at," she said. "That way we would be better prepared when companies present themselves. We could attempt to attract the kind of business we're interested in."

The air center markets its easy access to Interstate 35, air transportation and rail service. Ritter said De Soto shared two of those assets.

"Our greatest asset is we're close to the highway," she said. "We have rail service available. We have to be prepared to market that."

De Soto was unique in that it is on the edge of the metropolitan area, but retains its small-town character, Ritter said.

"A lot of employers are looking for that atmosphere," she said.

As was the case with her predecessor, Ritter will serve as executive director of the De Soto Chamber of Commerce and the De Soto Economic Development Council. Despite her economic development background, she is eager to work with De Soto businesses.

"It's important to be a local resource for them," she said. "I would like to have local job fairs and start a human-resource task force so we can decide what kind of people we need to attract to the community."

Ritter and her husband, Kevin, have a son, Dillon, and an infant daughter, Hayley.

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