As the Star Bond initiative picks up steam with real estate purchase agreements being signed and site development underway, the challenges of business and housing development in Dodge City and Ford County are being brought to the forefront.

The Dodge City/Ford County Development Corporation is one of the primary agencies charged with attracting new business and industry, as well as promoting housing that suits the unique needs of the area.

In addition to courting retail businesses, the desire to draw additional manufacturing to the area is a focal point - but challenges abound.

The fact that the area is served by only two-lane highways can make supply bottlenecks a real concern for manufacturers.

Prospective employers also want to know there is available workforce in an area. With 2.3 percent unemployment and a critical need for housing, the number of potential workers can be limited.

A third problem is that southwest Kaånsas is also the only part of the state without a four-year university - an important point that can cause potential manufacturers to question the training and education level of the workforce.

Joann Knight, executive director at the EDC, said the impediments to attracting manufacturing to the area are not easily overcome.

"It can be very difficult marketing to companies to come in when you have three or four major strikes against you right there," Knight said. "That's why I feel it's important to get to some of the smaller-level manufacturers."  

Knight said her group is working with Sunflower Power to get the two community industrial parks certified. The Chaffin Industrial Park east of Dodge City is zoned for heavy industrial and home to Curtis Machine, FedEx, Bell and Carlson and Land o' Lakes. The city owns the Dodge City Business Park, a light industrial park near the racetrack that has been mainly sub-divided into parcels suitable for smaller industrial use.

Sunflower Power will evaluate and assess utilities and infrastructure for the parks. The certification will suggest improvements and changes to make the sites more appealing to potential industry.

Knight said the EDC recently joined the World Economic Development Alliance to cooperate in its "Small Town USA-Big Time Opportunities" campaign - a cooperative of 25 communities across the country.

The cooperative will focus on marketing the communities to smaller industrial companies looking to relocate or expand, but that may not have the resources to locate site opportunities outside major metropolitan areas.

Knight said she is working with existing businesses to assess where they are buying supplies and equipment to possibly lure those companies to the area.

Commercially, the city is seeing success attracting businesses through the Star Bond incentives.

Rib Crib is set to build an 8,000-square-foot structure west of Lopp Motors. Rib Crib will occupy half of the building and is working with a developer out of Texas to find prospective tenants for the other half.

Knight said the city has encouraged the company to locate a tenant that will generate sales tax, rather than developing office space. She said the incentive for the city to sell the property to Rib Crib was growing tax revenues to help pay off the Star Bonds issued for the district.

"They want to build that district to be more of a tourism destination supporting the entertainment venues down there," Knight said.

On 14th Street, the Star Bonds program has also seen successes. Casey's General Stores will open a convenience store at the corner of 14th and Soule, and Dodge Partners is building the three-plex in front of Wal-Mart. Slated to open in April, the site will have an AT&T store, Great Clips, and a nail salon.

Dodge Partners has also submitted proposals for the two lots north of the Casey's location. Knight said the group, which has developments across Kansas, is pursuing sit-down restaurants and soft goods retailers for the sites.

Knight said that the area has had severe workforce shortages for decades. She said potential employers see the lack of housing as a drawback to possibly locating new facilities in Dodge City.

"That is one of the critical issues they look at," she said. "We had existing businesses that had to bring employees in, and then they had to put them up in hotels for months. We had to do something. In 2008 I went to the city and county and told them we had to get housing to keep the existing businesses."

A 2015 housing-needs assessment concluded that Dodge City had housing shortages in every category - from single-family, owner-occupied houses to multi-unit apartment complexes - at all income levels. A new assessment has been completed and the results are due in March.

Mollea Wainscott, housing coordinator at the EDC, said her group and representatives from RDG Planning and Design used several metrics to determine housing requirements.

"We looked at the population and how we are expected to grow," Wainscott said. "Since the last assessment we've seen a lot of housing go up, so the results should be interesting."

Private contractors and the development corporation are promoting targeted construction to address those housing needs.

For potential home buyers, Summerlon V is a duplex community north of the bypass near Avenue A which recently began construction, and the 30-home Candletree 8 addition on Cervantes Road has some units already completed.

Low-income housing has long been an underserved need in Dodge City. The Santa Fe II project on Brier Street and Avenue K will provide additional units to serve that community. Santa Fe II is a 32-unit project planned for 20 townhouses and a 12-unit apartment building.

"It will be a really nice addition to Santa Fe I," Wainscott said. "It's really well-managed and they're very nice homes, so we're excited for Santa Fe II. They will meet a different need but still be quality, affordable housing."

The first Santa Fe community was specifically designated by owners Interfaith Housing Services as housing for workers in the agriculture industry.

With so many challenges, Knight said her organization definitely can not work alone in promoting the growth of Dodge City.

"It takes a lot of planning and building partnerships," Knight said. "This community belongs to all of us. We want input and feedback from our residents.

"We have to work together if we're going to continue to survive out here."

To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com