Archive for Thursday, October 8, 2009

Green businesses added to city’s target list

October 8, 2009

De Soto should add green industries to those industries it was agreed the community should target in 2003, the De Soto City Council was told last Thursday.

The recommendations were in a report Irv Jensen of Smart Solutions Group shared with the council. The report and the recommendations were developed in an August workshop Jensen led and attended by council members, De Soto planning commissioners, members of the De Soto Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council and residents.

The discussion led to the inclusion of green industries to the list of those identified in 2003. Those existing targets were:

• Life sciences and life science support manufacturing.

• Wholesale, packaging and distribution centers.

• Food processing equipment and commercial equipment merchant wholesalers. (At the suggestion of the August discussion, the focus would be on natural food manufacturers, processors or wholesalers.)

• Administrative centers or back offices.

Council members didn’t challenge the conclusions in the report, but two members did question its worth.

Councilman Ron McDaniel said he skipped the August work study session because he questioned the conclusion of a market study included in the 2003 report that suggested De Soto would need a population of 10,000 to attract a grocery store.

McDaniel said that was counter to what he’d learned from visiting grocers in the area and the experience of the Basehor supermarket that opened this summer. The 2003 market study was the work of a company wanting to discourage competition in De Soto.

McDaniel and Councilwoman Mitra Templin said the city’s lack of a grocery store would hurt De Soto in its effort to recruit industry.

In response, Jensen said De Soto could be successful in recruiting industry with or without a grocery store. But he did distance himself from the grocery store market study in the 2003 report, which although was packaged with the original targeted industry study was the work of another firm.

As for the update, Jensen said it wasn’t “anti-grocery store.” It did contain the conclusions on the topic those attending the August work study came to on the topic. Among those conclusions was suggestion the city should contract a market study for a new store. The city council contracted a firm to do just that last month.

The other conclusions were:

• A grocery store would have to be profitable.

• Decisions regarding recruitment of a new store need to be based on facts not opinions.

• It is an emotional issue and should be fully explored and not dismissed.

Beyond that, the new report states the city and the communities economic development leadership should explore what would be needed to encourage private investment in a new supermarket and the effectiveness and appropriateness of city incentives.

De Soto Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sara Ritter addressed Templin’s concern little was done to realize the proposals of the 2003 study.

Among the recommendations in the original study were those calling for the city to better position itself to recruit industries by addressing sewer and water plants capacity issues that hampered recruitment efforts and improve its middle-income housing stock, Ritter said.

“We couldn’t recruit new industries because of over-capacity issues with water and sewer,” she said. “This study said, ‘This is what you have to work on.’ The city has done a great job of addressing the water and sewer issues.

“The next area of emphasis in the housing front and how we compete with the rest of Johnson County.”

Ritter said Monday another focus of the 2003 report was that De Soto focus on retaining and growing existing industries.

“I think the city has done an amazing job of helping them do what they need to do to stay here,” she said.

As for targeted industry recommendations in the update, Jensen said his only criticism was that they were too board. He suggested the city look for niches within such board categories as life science.

The life science focus continued to make sense because it dovetailed with the efforts of the state and such economic development organizations as the K-10 Association and the Mid-American Regional Council, Jensen said.

Although remains on the list, Jensen said those businesses were looking for building sites with infrastructure in place. De Soto wouldn’t have much luck in that area until it could offer the same, he said.

Green industries was a growth area and it made sense for De Soto to target such businesses, Jensen said. But he suggested De Soto go further and demonstrate a community commitment to green initiatives, he said. He suggested a fully green business park as an example.

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