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Roy: Economy improving despite challenges

Staff writer

Anthony Roy has been Hillsboro’s economic development director for just about four months, but he has already identified economic strengths of the town and the biggest problems facing businesses.

Economic progress indicators started by Clint Seibel, his predecessor of sales tax, population, school enrollment, appraised value, and capital investment show growth in Hillsboro.

Sales tax revenue is higher, the population may be over 3,000 by the 2020 Census, Tabor College enrollment is up, and new facilities are under construction.

The only indicator that is not stronger than 10 years ago is USD 410 enrollment, even though the student numbers are growing.

Even better, Hillsboro has jobs available, Roy said. But hidden behind stronger economic progress indicators is a problem: not enough laborers.

“Employers can’t find employees,” Roy said. “I could do all the business recruitment, I could bring Amazon to town, but ultimately there’s no employees to work in those positions.”

He said he would never chase away a business, but he is not going out and recruiting manufacturing businesses. He did say there is a specialty retail company with no direct competition in the county interested in expanding to Hillsboro.

“Our work force has to be addressed before we bring in outside businesses,” Roy said.

He said he wants to organize more workforce development opportunities.

“It’s a business development problem, but it ties into community development,” Roy said. “If Hillsboro is attractive to the outside, people will want to move here, which in turn will mean jobs.”

Tabor helps bring young people to town, but graduates with liberal arts degrees are not filling available unskilled or tech trades positions.

“This is one thing that I need to build some facts behind this: the work force that we need here is not the work force that Tabor can offer us,” Roy said.

He said Tabor is important to the community, but many of its graduates leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere. However, many families later move back to Hillsboro.

School entrepreneurship classes and tech trade training help, Roy said, as long as they are properly funded.

Work force, though, is a problem across Kansas, he said.

Hillsboro’s economy faces other challenges, too, Roy said. Retail stories struggle with getting people to shop local, there is not enough housing, and taxes are too high.

Property taxes pose the largest problem, Roy said, but sales tax could become a problem. The sales tax is comparable or slightly higher than those of similar communities, but the property tax is much higher, he said.

“My biggest concern with the sales tax is if we continue the jail tax,” Roy said. “What I have been told by the commission is they are going to find a reason, they don’t have a reason to keep that sales tax going. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

An extension of the tax would have to be approved by county voters.

He said mill rate and valuation are equally important to property taxes, but the mill rate is generally higher than comparison communities.

Roy joined Marion economic development director Randy Collett at an Aug. 21 county budget hearing to ask why taxes were increasing when there were cash reserves.

“We discovered that there was a substantial amount of reserves,” Roy said. “They have since said that the amount that’s really available is $3 million, which is still considerable. They’re only defending how much money they have. Why are taxes so much higher than everywhere else? And I don’t think that question has been answered by them.”

He said the three-part problem of needing jobs, affordable housing, and a work force need solutions that work together.

He assists people looking to start a business, which usually includes finding money through loans.

“I believe in homegrown businesses, whether that’s an expansion or starting,” Roy said. “Just in the short time I’ve been here, we’ve had four to five people interested in starting a business.”

While he won’t recruit businesses from other towns in the county, he also won’t impede private businesses from making moves.

“I kind of have an unwritten rule: I will not go to any other community in Marion County and try to steal their businesses,” he said.

Roy said he wants to meet with more Hillsboro business owners to learn about problems they face and solutions, including strategies for workforce development and shopping local

Long term, he wants to see Hillsboro increase in population, tax revenue, and valuation.

Roy said city governments have a working relationship.

“I’m a firm believe that what is good for Marion is usually going to be good for us, and I want to be Marion’s biggest cheerleader when it comes to those things,” he said. “And that goes for any other community here in Marion County.”

Last modified Oct. 25, 2017

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