Crawford County is set to receive its share of the benefits of a new federal program designed to create incentives for economic development across the United States.
Wednesday marked the deadline for cities throughout Kansas to apply for opportunity zones, a program in which people can take unrealized capital gains and re-invest them into a zone fund.
The “opportunity zone” designation follows census tracts, each of which must have a certain qualifications in order to pass as opportunity zones. Pittsburg Deputy City Manager Jay Byers said the key factor is low-income areas.
Pittsburg applied for all four of its census tracts. Although Byers has yet to receive any official word, he expects one or two of them to be accepted.
“We have needs across the board in Pittsburg, but housing is a real problem,” Byers said. “There will be opportunities for commercial development, too.”
Frontenac City Administrator Brad Reams said opportunity zones would provide a great chance for southeast Kansas to jumpstart its investments.
“While we’ve had, in recent year,s kind of state opportunity zones that were started by (former) Gov. Sam Brownback, these are different in that they attack the economic development situation in a different way.”
Like Byers, Reams acknowledged the housing opportunities that this program could present.
“We’re currently looking at upwards of four to five areas of the city and with interested parties to maybe do some housing development,” Reams said. “This would certainly be favorable for investors that are looking to be a part of Frontenac in that way.”
Reams also detailed how local investors could benefit from this program.
“Before we had people who care about their community and thought about getting involved, but they weren’t quite sure whether it made financial sense for them,” Reams said. “With this, though, we have another reason — besides just the love of their community — that it would be a positive thing for them to help develop their own community.”
Arma Coordinator for Economic Development Lisa Rhodes said Arma’s letter of intent detailed plans for a grocery store that would serve as a distribution center for smaller stores in Arcadia and Mulberry.
“If we find someone that uses that model for a store, this could be a good idea for them because we have so many small communities that they may branch out to,” Rhodes said. “We have people in Arcadia that might be driving 20 miles to get to a healthy food source.”
Arma is working to improve job opportunities for college graduates, too.
“Our Arma Economic Development has not been in existence for a year yet, and we’re looking at triangulation between the school, the community and business and in there is housing,” Rhodes said. “We are working with the Kansas School of Technology to put some activities and some support where we can pull some of those kids toward technology-based employment so we can kind of break that cycle of poverty.”
Rhodes maintains that one of Arma’s selling points is its tightly-knit community.
“We’re small enough that your kids can ride their bikes to school, they can ride their bikes to the park, they can ride them to ball practice,” she said. “What people are looking for is an area where your kids can play outside until the street lights come on, they can have friends over or go to their friends’ houses and you have that sense of community.”
Arma’s Economic Development group will hold its next meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, March 26 at the Golden Era.
“It would be important for leadership from Arcadia, Mulberry and Franklin to attend because I think we will probably develop an opportunity zone designation committee,” Rhodes said. “This isn’t just an Arma initiative, but one that involves all of these communities.”
— Brandon Schmitz is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.