By Deb Hadachek Telescope News
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David Pachta didn’t know if it was a good idea to start a business in the middle of a pandemic.
That’s why he turned to Republic County Economic Development to guide him to resources to crunch the numbers, find a location, and suggest sources of financing.
Turns out, the middle of a pandemic is a perfect time to open a floral shop.
“My sales have been far beyond what I projected, “ says Pachta, owner of David’s Creations. The floral shop opened on the south side of the square in Belleville in mid-2020. “When people can’t visit their relatives, they send flowers instead.”
Pachta said he might have let fear and uncertainty about the economic climate squelch his idea when he saw the opportunity for a floral shop in Belleville after another long-time florist retired.
But it was a team effort that convinced him his plan was no pipe dream, but made financial sense.
Luke Mahin, who is the face of Republic County Economic Development, helped scout potential locations.
Linda Sutton-Nutsch, LRS Consulting, offers a business development class (funded by RCED) which was a great help to calculate expenses and potential earnings and a business plan, he said. Pachta realized that flowers alone might not pay the bills. So he looked for other niche products to add to the cash flow.
“One of the popular products has been the concrete statues and garden items,” he says. “The local monument company told me they don’t sell them, but people ask for them all the time.” Pachta focuses his retail stock on religious gifts, candles, soaps and candy, many made by local and regional craft people.
Pachta said he was almost afraid to pitch the idea to his local banker. “But he said, ‘I don’t think that’s a bad idea. Let’s see what we can do’,” Pachta says.
The Republic County Revolving Loan Fund also bought into Pachta’s business plan with a low-interest loan to purchase a building and provide start-up capital.
“And I really appreciated the confidentiality of everyone involved until I was ready to make a decision,” he says.
Pachta’s experience reflects the breadth of resources available to businesses when they want to open or expand in Republic County.
And it’s the fact that individuals–and the county–often need so many different kinds of resources when it comes to business development that led the RCED board down a new path 10 years ago.
“We had hired several directors through the years, and saw them come and go,” says Jimmie Blecha, Munden, RCED chairman. “They were all very good and they all had different strengths.”
But the board realized that instead of hiring a single person as a director, it made more sense to contract with private companies with expertise in different areas.
“Then we could zero in on the goals we wanted to obtain,” Blecha said. “Plus, when you contract with an agency, you do away with having to manage employees and pay for health insurance. We just pay for the job we want done.”
If it wanted, Blecha says the board could contract with one company for marketing projects, a different company for grant writing and yet another company to maintain a website.
About the same time as the RCED board was thinking about charting a different path, one of those former RCED directors, Jenny Russell, returned to Republic County and opened her own marketing company, JenRus Freelance, in Courtland. She hired Mahin, who had just graduated from Ft. Hays State University.
In the beginning, the RCED board contracted with JenRus for 20 hours a week. That contract has since expanded to 40 hours a week. And while the RCED board always has the option to contract with a different company on a project, Blecha says JenRus has always been willing to add services to meet the county’s needs.
Blecha said that while Mahin bears the title RCED director, other JenRus staff members help with different projects.
The RCED is only funded by contributions from Republic County, the City of Belleville, and other municipalities in the county. Republic County contributes $35,000 to the RCED operations; Belleville city $26,000.
RCEDC currently has a nine-member board of directors to carry out the day-to-day decision duties of the organization, in addition to a 16-member voting committee that meets quarterly to set policy. In recent years the RCED formed a partnership with the Network Kansas E-Communities program administered by the Kansas Department of Commerce, which created an additional pool of money to loan to businesses, but also helps pay for training and educational programs.
During 2020, RCED provided services to
- Planning/Start-up stage: 43 businesses
- Expansion/Growth stage: 17 businesses
- Succession Stage: 6 businesses
“From the time someone talks to us about an idea to the time it might become a reality can take a few months or a few years,” Mahin says. “The timing and investing in an idea takes a long runway to get to the launch point.”
Mahin says the RCED coordinates with other committees and organizations in the county to help promote business growth.
That means helping agencies like the Belleville Industrial Park/ North Central Kansas Industrial Development Corporation with five requests for information on property it owns on the west edge of Belleville.
RCED also spearheaded the Neighborhood Revitalization Program in 2012 in which 11 taxing entities in the county agree to rebate property taxes on a sliding scale for five years for new construction greater than $25,000 in appraised value. Since 2012, 89 projects valued at $12,844,420 have taken advantage of the program.
Housing a priority
Blecha says that housing is a priority for the RCED board.
“Our Number 1 issue is housing,” he says. “Whoever can answer that problem for me has it made.
“We have no investors who want to invest in duplexes. Our employers have no place for new employees to come and live. Everybody who hires on for a job wants to come here and rent first.
“It’s a vicious circle.”
This summer RCED partnered with North Central Regional Planning Commission in Beloit to pilot an NCK Homeownership Program. NCRPC provided enough financing for up to 12 qualified homebuyers to receive a $10,000 loan at zero percent interest for a down payment, and $2,000 grant for closing costs.
Eleven of those 12 spots were snapped up between May and August, Mahin says. Of the 20 homes publicly advertised for sale in the county during the summer, 11 were sold, totaling more than $1 million in value, says Mahin.
RCED worked on other projects through the year, from childcare to helping businesses find COVID-19 relief funds, to promoting a program for junior high and high school students to develop their own businesses. In 2020 the North Central Kansas Food Council helped local producers develop and market specialty crops and agri-tourism ideas, Mahin says.
Mahin also serves on a board to create a new Kansas-Nebraska tourism region, a designation that helps promote trips to the Midwest, and harnesses the promotional power of the national park system.
County commissioners reviewed a four-page, single-spaced list of RCED activities at its February 1 meeting.
“There’s a lot of resources out there if people just get out and look,” said Commissioner Melvin Jeardoe.
(2020 RCED board members are: Jimmie Blecha, Munden, Chairman; Mike Gritten, Scandia, Pike Valley USD 426, vice-chairman; Mikel Hadachek, Belleville, Astra Bank, secretary; Dan Kelly, Belleville, Republic County Hospital administrator; Larry Lyder, Belleville, USD 109; Matt Dowell, Cuba; David Douglas, Courtland; Edwin Splichal, Belleville, Republic County Commissioner; Randy Hansen, Belleville, Tom Lesovsky, Cuba; Adam Robertson, Belleville mayor; Jeff Thompson, Scandia; Adam Anderson, Belleville city manager (ex officio member); Luke Mahin, executive director; Jenny Russell, advisor. Mahin said the RCED website (www.republiccountykansas.com) was viewed more than 46,614 times in 2020. The most popular pages are jobs, homes, rentals, business resources and the blog. The group has nearly 2,000 Facebook followers, 793 Twitter followers and 469 followers on Instagram.)
Learn about previous RCED Annual Reports below.