Industrial park brainstorm session ends with more questions

With crayons pressed between their fingertips, city and county commissioners illustrated their visions for the new economic development park in a Wednesday joint meeting.

John Divine, acting as facilitator, employed various brainstorming tactics to foster conversation among the community leaders. His talking prompts centered on envisioning future growth of the community on the 300 acres acquired for new development.

After emptying their boxes of crayons, the commissioners drew several scenes: cars on their ways to work in the morning, dollar bill signs, bicycles on trails, restaurants, new housing, airplanes and other depictions of Ottawa and Franklin County’s possible future.
“Our quality of life is why people stay here,” Sara Caylor, Ottawa city commissioner, said. “If we continue to reinvest in our quality of life, people will stay.”

Divine said establishing expectations will give direction to the land without limiting opportunities. He asked commissioners what types of businesses they would like to see in the area.

“You can’t go out there and just pick, but at the same time you can direct,” Divine said.

There was consensus among several commissioners that a variety of businesses would allow for different levels of jobs. Rick Howard, Franklin County commissioner, said individuals with degrees should be able to work alongside recent high school graduates looking to start a career. At the same time, Linda Reed, city commissioner, said offering a living wage is necessary.

“If somebody wanted to come in and take the whole park, but they only pay minimum wage, I’d say no because I don’t think that would help us,” Reed said.

Narrowing in on the types of desired businesses, Steve Harris, county commissioner, said the location of the new park provides opportunity for a manufacturing business, but there also is potential for research and development companies. Shawn Dickinson, city commissioner, said homegrown businesses might be more likely to stay in the area.

Randall Renoud, county commissioner, said he was concerned with the effects on the community if a large industry were to leave, but several smaller businesses might not optimize job opportunities.

Based on the comments, Divine tied the threads of conversations by concluding that commissioners prefer welcoming companies that have the potential to grow.

Before concluding, Richard Nienstedt, Ottawa city manager, said he wanted to know what commissioners don’t want in the development park.

Harris said minimum wage-paying jobs and unattractive buildings are unwelcome. Colton Waymire, said he doesn’t want to bring in an industry that smells.

Commissioners also discussed flexibility in building design, wide-spread marketing of the land, name of the development park, incentives for businesses, amount of infrastructure needed and passage of the penny sales tax — all pieces expected to come together as they move forward. The partnership between the city and county to develop the land is all in an effort to advance the community, Divine said.

Divine asked the question on the minds of commissioners and community members: How soon can something happen?

“I think it’s happening now,” Howard said.

Moving forward, commissioners are slated to visit development parks in Riverside, Missouri, Lawrence and Topeka come August where they will see examples of parks and arrive prepared with specific questions.

“What do we not know that we need to know?” Harris said.