Life science firms top De Soto target list
Report suggests city focus on four growth industries
Consultants hired to suggest industries De Soto should target for recruitment shared their recommendations with the City Council last Thursday with a warning and a compliment.
The warning was found inside the 64-page report prepared by RealInfo. De Soto was at a crossroads, the report's authors said, that would see the city either position itself to attract new industries offering competitive wages and salaries or enter into a spiral of decline with its residents facing an ever-increasing burden as they struggle with tax bills from the city and school district.
The compliment was paid by RealInfo consultant Lisa Franklin, who said De Soto had advantages that should help it overcome that gloomy future.
"I think you have a very bright future with an excellent potential for growth," she said. "I've been really impressed with what you have at the industrial park."
The recommendations at the core of the $4,500 study jointly funded by the city, Chamber and De Soto Economic Development Council suggested De Soto concentrate its recruitment efforts on four industries that fit the city's infrastructure profile, would enhance the quality of life, wouldn't detract from existing industry, and complemented the available labor pool. Franklin said consultants also sought to identify businesses that would gain an advantage from locating in De Soto.
RealInfo consultant John Engelmann said he and Franklin looked for growth industries and ones that were little affected by down turns in the national economy.
In explaining the usefulness of the target study, Franklin said recruitment required a considerable investment in time and money. The city, Chamber of Commerce and De Soto Economic Development Council would get more return if they focused on industry known to be compatible with city utilities and a review of the city's demographics, research in regional and national trends, and interviews with local business leaders, school district administrators and city officials.
Several of the targeted industries -- life sciences, distribution and packaging centers, and satellite administrative centers -- were on similar lists developed by the Kansas Department of Commerce, which would allow local recruitment dollars to go even further, Franklin said.
Possibilities for partnerships in life sciences were even greater, Franklin said, because of a bi-state initiative to create a bio-technology corridor from Columbia, Mo., to Manhattan. The initiative's biggest success was the $200 million Stowers Institute of Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., that Franklin predicted would spinoff companion industries in the corridor. Intervet already gives De Soto a presence in the life science industry that could spur ancillary development, she said.
"The Greater Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas City Area Development Council are committed to spending thousands of dollars to attract industries that fit that profile," she said. "It is in line with the vision of the K-10 Association. We found this industry matches up well with what is out there."
It is not unusual for city's to target firms that supply or in some way complement those they already have, but Engelmann said Mr. Goodcents offered De Soto an unusual opportunity. The company's executives indicated they would like to develop the 47 acres Mr. Goodcents owns in De Soto Commercial Park as office and warehouse space for commercial food processing equipment and supply firms -- one of the key reasons that category was listed among the targets.
"It's very unusual to see a business that has a desire to be a developer," he said. "That is what Mr. Goodcents is talking about in this case."
To get the most from the recommendations, the consultants said the City Council should align its incentive package with the targeted list.
"You need to indicate you are very interested in the targeted industries," he said. "Whatever you offer in your incentive program, racket it up for the targeted industries."
Engelmann and Franklin also encouraged the city to take full advantage of partnerships with the Kansas Department of Commerce, the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Greater Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce to recruit industries all target. That could take the form of simply listing De Soto among potential sites, providing the city's economic development officials with list of prospects, or having a joint presence at conventions and trade shows for the targeted industries, the consultants said.
Sara Ritter, director of the De Soto Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council, said she planned to meet with state and regional development officials to share the results of the study and to start the kinds of shared activities the consultants suggested.
In addition, Engelmann said there should be an on-going dialogue between the business community and De Soto USD 232 to ensure that vocational training critical to the target industries was offered in the district. The school district was identified as one of the community's recruiting strengths in the study.
Finally, Engelmann and Franklin recommended the community find a way to market its distinctiveness through "branding." The practice, which was gaining popularity in economic development circles, attempts to build a marketing plan on a theme or catch phase. Kansas City had built such campaign around the "smart" theme with smart corridor, smart work force and smart technology being examples, Engelmann said.
The targeted industry study can be viewed at De Soto City Hall, 32905 W. 84th, and the Chamber office, 33150 W. 83rd.