According to the Dodge City/Ford County Development Corporation, the local economy is healthy and stable. Growth is expected to continue despite challenges such as a high number of job vacancies and a tight housing market.
Joann Knight, the executive director of the development corporation, said that the local economy has fared better than many others across the state and around the country. Knight said that, according to the Kansas Bureau of Labor, Ford County has seen a 13.1% increase in jobs between 2008 and 2013.
The executive director said that the current economic conditions are 'exactly what we want to see'.
"We are very fortunate to have consistent job creation and a low unemployment rate; We are very happy with where it is at,” she said.
Though Knight said that “having a low unemployment rate is better than having no jobs,” she added that many local businesses have struggled to recruit and retain the kinds of workers that they need. According to Knight the difficulty of attracting the right types of employees for local businesses has been a top priority for herself and the development corporation. Project, DodgeCityHasJobs.com has been “successful” in helping to ease the hardships endured by local businesses that result from the shortages of workers and housing.
She said that the development corporation makes approximately 20 trips per year to other regions in order to increase awareness of job and investment opportunities in the area.
Knight also said that revitalization efforts, the creation of “rural housing districts,” and the arrival of the Interfaith Housing Service have helped to ease the “severe need” for living arrangements for prospective new residents. Currently, the area is in need of housing options ranging from small apartments to larger single-family homes.
Although the agriculture and beef industries continue to be the pillars of the local economy, there has been an increase in economic diversity. She said that the packing plants have contributed to the economy recently by increasing production and upgrading their facilities. According to her, the implementation of “new technologies” and “advanced processes” has enabled the plants to increased productivity and output.
The oil and gas exploration and extraction have been and will likely continue to be a boost to the economy. Knight said that the “big increase” in activity has slowed temporarily because most of the land that is desired by the companies has already been leased. In addition, she said that two of the main players, “Chespeake and Sandridge,” have re-aligned their investments due to the uncertainty of how productive the fields will be. Still, Knight expects to see “some growth in the future” as the companies strengthen their balance sheets and see increased energy demand.
Page 2 of 2 - Knight said that the dramatic increase in wind energy investments has also helped to further diversify the economy and create jobs.
The keys for continued economic success are the growth of existing businesses and the willingness of local public and private entities to “invest in ourselves.” Upgrades by Curtis Machine, CrustBuster Speed King, and Pos-T-Vac are some examples of businesses that have contributed to economic expansion by improving their businesses and adding employees to their workforces.
Knight said, however, that local businesses and governments have seen negative effects from increased online shopping and other online business transactions. She said that “shopping local” allows home-grown businesses to be able to keep their doors open and contribute to the economy. Patronizing local establishments also enables local governments to collect taxes which can then be reinvested in projects that are needed to help make the area a better place to live.
The lack of a four-year college or university and the lack of an interstate are both impediments to growth efforts. Knight said that she believes those problems will eventually be solved, but she did not provide an estimate of how many years it will take.
Though Knight recognizes the challenges that face the local economy, she said that she is “optimistic” about the future. She believes that continued cooperation between public and private organizations will help to solve issues that face the local economy and allow individuals and businesses to be successful. Knight said that she is focused on “getting people to move together” in order to achieve common goals.
Increases in job opportunities, educational opportunities, and entertainment options has and will help the area to continue to experience growth well into the future.