Belleville can be even better, but this fact is not necessarily tied to Economic Development’s proven performance
RCED is structured the way that it is based upon lessons learned through trial and error in the last twenty-three years. First and foremost, Belleville is important. Each community in Republic County is a priority for RCED and knowing what a Council’s priorities are helps us to better reach goals. RCED takes pride in serving the entire county and we know that we are all stronger when we work together. Recent public statements by other entities to the contrary are counterproductive and undermine many of the unifying efforts that the RCED Board has worked toward for almost a quarter century. County and regionalism are encouraged and are better rewarded by funders like the Dane G. Hansen Foundation and the State of Kansas programs. RCED is made up of board members from all over the County, making us all stronger.
If one community wants to be more proactive, that is up to the people in that community. Each community in the County has done that in certain ways over the years. But these efforts can be strengthened by working within the already established track record/framework of Economic Development and realizing that the success of one community makes all other communities better. 4,607 people supporting a town is better than 2,007 people, is better than 344, is better than 297 people etc. all standing alone. Give any director more access to motivated citizens who want to invest in projects, who want to develop housing, who want to start businesses, who look at everything positively, and who are proud of themselves; do this and watch successes grow. It doesn’t have to be “one or the other”, but it can be in addition to. The Chamber does not do the same things as Economic Development does. Chamber’s market their members in order to create opportunities for businesses within the community. Currently the Belleville Chamber/Main Street helps Belleville businesses connect to each other, promotes the town for the races, promotes downtown guidelines for buildings, etc. Economic Development markets the community as a whole in order to bring additional investment into the community, which also creates opportunities for citizens.
Economic Development is hard work and high pressure, it is also very political. That makes finding and keeping a director extremely hard. No one walks into an Economic Development position without a heavy five-year learning curve. Before JenRus Freelance came on board, the RCED position had gone through six directors in seven years for an average of less than two years per director. This is on par for most economic development positions in the State of Kansas, with most individuals lasting in the position for three to five years. JenRus has served for twelve years and our model has brought stability to the position and fluidity in transition. Longevity is an important component in the success of the position because of all of the connections made and learning curves learned that longevity brings. Every time a new director started, all of this had to be relearned and traction was lost.
RCED is always open to ways we can better serve. Recent concerns have been staged about the office location. The question needs to be asked however, if the office location is really the most important part, or if this is only a perceived hangup if the results are strong. RCED has been serving with a dedicated board, with weighted Belleville representation, since 1999. JenRus Freelance has been serving in the director role since 2010. In this time, the physical office has been in Courtland, but we have helped to accomplish considerable milestones for the County and Belleville, including a $1 million KDOT grant for the road construction at the Industrial Park, Reinke Manufacturing expansion, Buffalo Apartments, Love’s Travel Stop, and Lambert Vet Supply expansions. More details can be found at republiccountykansas.com.
Additionally, our office has brought in the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Rural Opportunity Zones, Small Business classes, and Network Kansas E-Community (helped to bring in over $500,000 to the Republic County loan pool). Building the strong foundational work that economic development needs to construct an even stronger economic ecosystem.
Finally, another advantage of JenRus Freelance serving economic development needs, is additional talent and stability to the position. Recently, we brought on an architectural lead to specifically prepare Belleville and Republic County to try to take advantage of the $60 million newly allocated to the Moderate Income Housing program. JenRus Freelance also proudly employs a graphic designer, web developer, and photographer/videographer who are all able to assist on projects and collaborate in a model that uniquely allows us to bring a diverse set of skills as part of our services; our current location makes this collaboration possible. The office uses a time recording system called Toggl and every hour/minute of the work we do is accounted for and can be reported on. There is a very competent board that oversees this work every month, which includes Belleville representatives.
Economic Development is often an uphill battle, especially in rural communities. But, Republic County is doing something right. When looking at the growth, programs, and positive change RCED has been a part of across the county and in Belleville, the numbers speak for themselves. Total Additional Republic County Property Tax $144,884.98 (City of Belleville $47,673.65), Hundreds of County Jobs, Annual Wages of more than $2,660,000, and Economic Impact of more than $6,197,800. For a full breakdown on stats from our office, go to this link.
And when we think about the kind of future we want to build, it’s not going to be the location of an office, but the legacy we leave.