FROM: Sue Sterling, Daily Star Journal Staff
WARRENSBURG – Consultants from Ady Advantage presented a report Wednesday on the strategic plan developed for the Johnson County Economic Development Corp. to guide the agency and community in economic development efforts in the future.
Some 70 community leaders attended the luncheon and mid-day presentation at Players Restaurant where Janet Ady, president and CEO of Ady Advantage, and Jason Vangalis, project manager, presented results of the study that began with a site visit in February and included a goals and visioning session with community leaders in May.
Vangalis said the 250-page plan incorporates strategies and more than 200 tactics, or “day-to-day tasks,” to achieve the goals.
The report includes an analysis of local industries that have an opportunity to grow and targeted industries that could be successful here, such as supply chains and end customers for those businesses, he said, adding the analysis also focuses on the needs and barriers to growth of struggling businesses.
Vangalis said the targeted industry analysis identified three sectors, food and beverage manufacturing, light manufacturing, and professional, scientific and technical fields.
He said they want to build cluster industries that have staying power.
“We want to build an ecosystem locally,” Vangalis said.
He said industries that provide supplies to local industries or that use products manufactured here are less likely to leave.
One goal, he said, is to support existing business while diversifying industry to protect the economy in a future downturn.
Vangalis said creating a community where people want to live is important because people now choose where to live before they choose where to work.
Factors such as safety and health, transportation, housing, food and amenities enter into the decision.
He said low unemployment and lack of talent makes employee recruitment and retention a challenge for many communities.
Noting that economic development is a team sport, Vangalis said the strategic plan includes roles and responsibilities in executing the plan for all partners in the community.
JCEDC has to establish clear priorities and create a greater awareness of economic development around the county, he said.
“There’s a huge opportunity for development here,” he said.
Three strategic pillars of economic development are product readiness, talent readiness and community readiness.
The county has to have building and sites available and match particular sites with targeted industries, Vangalis said, including understanding and meeting infrastructure needs.
The county-owned Shamrock Business Park on U.S. Highway 50 west of Warrensburg offers “an opportunity to create a huge niche,” he said.
More than 10 tactics focus on talent readiness, with the goal to identifying needs, barriers to meeting those needs and ways to resolve them.
With Johnson County’s transient population, he said, there is a tremendous opportunity to find ways to keep people here or provide opportunities so they return.
In order to attract and keep talent, he said, it is important to know why people want to live here and what they like and do not like about the community, then find ways “to bridge the gap.”
He said the number one barrier to getting talent is lack of affordable housing.
He said economic developers have to work with the city and others to find or develop housing stock.
“You need to understand what you have and what’s lacking in the market,” Vangalis said. “It’s a long game. …Work with your partners to develop a housing toolbox.”
Resources also are needed to assist start-up businesses, such as incubators or accelerators, he said.
Vangalis said the plan should be a living, breathing, document that is revised as the economy changes.
Ady said the plan “provides the latest generation plan,” including elements of placemaking and talent.
“That’s the way the future is going,” she said.
Statistics show 11,000 county residents leave the county for work, she said, creating an opportunity to keep people here through economic development.
Ady said the population is fairly flat, adding that the population is not keeping up with the demand for talent in most places.
“There are more open positions than people to fill them,” she said. “It’s a national problem.”
The low median age in Johnson County is an advantage, Ady said.
“To have an influx (of new people) all the time is a great situation,” Ady said. “… It positions you well for some cool things.”
Companies now want to know a work force is available, she said, and to have a work force.
“You have to have a place that people enjoy,” she said.
She said companies are locating where the talent is.
“Where people want to live becomes an important factor,” Ady said.
She said more people are looking for communities with “walkability,” where they can get to work and access services and facilities without using a car.
Recruiting companies and talent becomes a “quality of life” issue, Ady said.
JCEDC Board Chairman Drew Lewis said the agency’s job now is to act on the plan.
“We now get to take the challenges and make them opportunities,” he said.
He said input from the community into the plan is encouraged.