$17 Million Payback

Regional Planning Recaps Work Since 2005; Develops New Strategic Goals For Future

By Deb Hadachek 
Telescope News 

It’s a “resource in our own backyard” that’s the envy of other economic development agencies around the state.

That’s how Republic County Economic Development director Luke Mahin describes the North Central Regional Planning Commission, an organization formed in 1972 that is a partnership of 12 counties and 83 cities to aid with planning and development for infrastructure, housing, technology, small business, health/safety initiatives, and more.

Since 2005 NCRPC, based in Beloit, has touched projects that have brought more than$17 million in community grants, business development projects, and individual home upgrades in Republic County. Those projects range from the hospital expansion to weatherization projects on individual homes to new water systems, Homeland Security initiatives, and low-interest loans to attract and grown businesses in the county.

It does not include the part that NCRPC played to bring high-speed Internet to the region or projects completed in its 30 years of existence prior to 2005. 

Across the region, it has served its members by helping them access more than $235million to finance infrastructure and housing rehabilitation; more than $30.6 million to improve the energy efficiency of over 11,000 housing units; and more than $65.0 million in project funding to help private sector enterprises.

Director Doug McKinney says not all of the benefits communities reap from its services are tangible, but have a ripple effect through the economy.

“The county may realize valuation increases from these business expansions that help with the tax base,” he says.“The weatherization projects increase a home’s efficiency by30 percent, and that gives individuals more money to spend on other necessities. 

“We’ve been doing small pieces in communities for 20 years, sometimes maybe just one house at a time,” he says.

Republic County Commissioners signed a resolution of support Monday that is renewed every five years to help NCRPCaccess federal funds.

New strategic plan

McKinney and Mahin, who represents RepublicCounty on the board of directors, also presented an overview of the organization’s strategic plan for coming years titledSWOT–Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats–gathered from community and business leaders and residents in participating counties.

Key perceptions in each area include:

  • Strengths: Highway access, support for businesses, educational systems, quality of life, low crime rates, worth ethic of residents and natural resources.
  • Weaknesses: Aging infrastructure and vacant buildings, loss of population, quality affordable housing, transfer of wealth between generations, business succession planning, and dependence on state and federal programs for funding.
  • Opportunities: Business support and development, entrepreneurship, workforce skills development, collaboration witheducational institutions,tourism/agritourism/regional branding, localfood system development,improve and expandhousing stock, development in the region related to the National Bioand Agro-Defense Facilityin Manhattan.
  • Threats: Decliningand aging rural population and workforce, lackof industry diversity,competition from onlineretail, competition fromurban area for graduates,lack of tax diversity, substance abuse.

McKinney and Mahin discussed three specific local areas of opportunities with commissioners: continued development of high-speed internet; ways that local producers are already working together to produce and market value-added agricultural products; and the possibility of a National Heritage Area in a 50-county region of Kansas and Nebraska focusing on pioneer history. “We’re looking for ways to partner with others to be seen as a region, just not a county,” Mahin says. “A lot of international tourists focus on heritage. (Studies show)that people interested in heritage tourism travel farther, stay longer and spend more money.”