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Fort Scott outlook brighter

Saturday, October 13, 2012

FORT SCOTT, Kan. -- Progress is being made on the city's economic development front, city officials said.

City Manager Dave Martin and Economic Development Manager Macy Cullison, who have recently been talking about the city's economic development picture at various events in town, said there are several jobs available, local companies are expanding and some new businesses have cropped up within the last year.

"We do have companies hiring," Cullison said. "We've been doing some research and a lot of our companies have added jobs in the last few months."

Cullison said Peerless Products recently hired about 50 people, and Carlisle Power Transmission Products has added 15 employees. Martin said those two companies, as well as Extrusions Inc., have added 74 jobs since April.

Results of an employer survey conducted in March show that there is an average employment of 150 people among the town's major employers. Cullison added no major local employer has shown a decrease in workers since the survey was done this spring.

Cullison said several people have asked her about employment, and "the jobs are there."

Jobs that are currently available include positions at Mercy Hospital, area nursing homes, skill and manufacturing jobs and sales positions, Cullison said.

"There is a very wide variety of jobs open right now," she said.

The city's unemployment rate has decreased from 7.6 percent in July to 7 percent currently, "so it's down and that's pretty significant," Cullison said.

Cullison said Fort Scott is home to "some quickly-growing industries," such as insurance claims processing with Cobalt Medplans and Firstsource Solutions, which have recently added employees.

"They're both growing rapidly," she said.

Martin cited a recent expansion at Labconco, a local manufacturer of laboratory equipment, which has added onto its facility and plans to add more staff and equipment in the future. He also said the Fort Scott Municipal Airport, which is in the process of expanding, is an "economic development tool" for the city.

Another proposed economic development tool involving city-owned land that was recently opened up to the public for hunting has been a topic of much debate in the community recently.

Martin said city officials have been talking to officials with both local school districts about joining forces to offer a workforce training program for high school students. He added the process is in the early stages.

"The city is trying to work with local school districts and partner with them to get a workforce training program in place ...," Martin said. "We're excited about meeting with companies and coming up with workforce development for both welding, manufacturing, as well as the technical side of the insurance claims industry that is growing here."

Fort Scott's assets include an airport, new pool and skatepark, golf course, community center, hospital, and several major employers of which there are a wide variety. Cullison said another advantage to living in Fort Scott is the low cost of living.

"These amenities, things for people to do, are all hugely important," Cullison said.

Cullison said the town's location is also key in drawing people and businesses.

"We really have a lot going for us; with our location on the highway. That's a huge plus," she said. "People can get to Kansas City and Oklahoma quickly and easily."

One advantage for Kansas businesses was approved by the Kansas Legislature during its most recent session.

Cullison said lawmakers eliminated the state tax on non-wage income for all partnerships, which include small businesses or sole proprietorships.

"For a large number of businesses in Kansas, there is no longer a state tax on non-wage income," she said. "Basically any business that's not a corporation. That's a huge benefit to doing business in Kansas."

Martin said he feels one of the town's biggest assets "are the people that run the companies.

"I would say our big attributes are the companies who believe in the town and the workforce," he said.

Several new businesses have popped up throughout town within the last year, while others have moved, expanded, or are starting to offer new product lines.

The city is also working on continued growth and development of the downtown area.

"Several things are in the works," Cullison said.

Martin said he feels strides are being made to make Fort Scott a stronger city, and the city, county and local school district are working well together toward their goal of continued progress, even when disagreements occasionally come up.

"I think companies and surrounding areas see Fort Scott as a very aggressive town to live in and do business with," he said. "We're very business-friendly and make it easy for companies to seek help. I believe there's a momentum within the city and county, and people are feeling good about where we're going. Everybody's working together."

Cullison said there are some "good economic development programs" coming up soon that she's been working on but could not provide details at this time. Some programs in the works will help meet the area's need for housing, she said.

Martin said he also could not provide additional details, but did say there is "some activity along the (U.S. Highway) 69 corridor."

"The city administrative team is working on some pretty exciting things," he said. "We are always every day in contact with businesses for programs to put in place, and also improve our workforce and have a great relationship with all entities."

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