Montgomery County is home to a wide variety of business and industry but Montgomery County Action Council (MCAC) is hoping to narrow down what business or industry the county is best suited for. With the recent hiring of Ady Advantage to help develop a Strategic Economic Development Plan, the MCAC board began having meetings with county stakeholders and employers to define their thoughts. IDR attended the General Stakeholder session Wednesday afternoon in the Conference Room at John Deere Coffeyville Works.

MCAC Executive Director Trisha Purdon said in the summer while working on the Tyson Foods project they quickly discovered it would make more sense as they were learning more about all the components such as infrastructure, work force and labor shed, that it would be helpful if they had some sort of economic development strategic plan which wasn't a common strategic plan every city puts in place every so often. "Something that would really give us a guide that all of our communities or county, could use, so everyone is on the same page and we all have a single direction we are headed," she explained. "That would address our trades, our industries — what industries do we currently have, what industries we could expand into that would supplement what we already have in place, and what are our areas for growth."

Purdon said working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) let MCAC know as they move forward they "really need to make sure the plan is in place in order to be eligible for any future large funding that might help our community for infrastructure and things like that." She said hiring Ady is the first step in a long process.

Purdon introduced Ady Advantage representatives Jason Vangalis and Jordan Ackerman who explained their activities since arriving in Montgomery County. Vangalis said they are in the area researching and the meeting would help them with their findings and what business leaders feel could make the county more economically sound for now and in the future. "We have been here for about two days talking to different employers, holding stakeholder meetings throughout the county," he said. "Today we are going to give you a quick insight into the data that we have already captured and gathered."

He explained the company how they performed their analysis and offered some initial findings of the two-day visit stressing it would be very raw information. "The number one thing we try to do as a site selector is minimize risk and for us it's really about alignment and readiness," Vangalis said. "Those are the two factors we see in communities that really drive risk factors and help us protect against it." They focus a lot on alignment of community entities – how well do they work together and is there healthy competition or is there unhealthy competition which creates risks within the communities. 

He mentioned product readiness and said Montgomery County already has buildings and sites available for development. "I can tell you most of our clients want an existing building and then when it comes down to it the buildings we find are not necessarily equipped to do what they want them to do and they end up building to suit anyway," Vangalis explained. He stressed the importance of having a mix of both. "What I can say is, your product readiness is off the charts. You have about 1.9 billion square feet on the market so that is significant. For the size of this community that is a pretty significant asset to have on hand."

He noted the sites he did visit and said they are in good shape with graded and flat land with good road access. "You have put in the work to make sure you are ready," he noted.

Increasing regionalism is very important and where you can pull a labor pool from. Montgomery County holds a total of 15,887 employees and in a nine county area near here there is an employee pull of 82,953. 

Ackerman then presented attendees with some of the initial research from Montgomery County. He went over the industries the county has a high concentration of, growing industries in the county with a low concentration, industries with a strong concentration in the county but have not been growing or have been declining, and industries with low concentrations and are declining. Montgomery County has a strong concentration of manufacturing and agriculture, and some that are growing in the county include finance and insurance, educational services and arts, entertainment and recreation. "'Government is almost always a huge industry in any labor force," he noted. "And it's usually mainstay." 

Vangalis gave a brief overview of the week stating overall heard of high cost around the county as well as high taxes, specifically on property taxes. "Some level of that is a perception in that they feel like its high. Relative to their overall shared expenses their property taxes are generally pretty low actually," he noted. "But the mill rate seems high so even if you show them data relative to other counties there is this level of 'it's high for us, I don't care what it is in Wilson County.'" 

Vangalis said the other overarching theme that came out which he feels is a challenge is alignment, working together amongst the different entities that are in the county. "The communities working with the county and so forth," he said. "I tried and I tried and I tried to figure out exactly why that is the case and no one could give me an answer. It seems to be a number of different things that could be a part of that." He mentioned the county's uniqueness of having two community colleges and how they need to work together for the good of the whole county.

"There is an opportunity to create a different kind of conversation and there is also a lack of single, clear messaging around who we are as a community," Vangalis stated. "The best answer to this that I heard in my time here was from one of the employers I spoke to who said, 'We need to stop thinking of ourselves as four different communities and one 35,000 community with four different neighborhoods.' That is the mindset you can take and the mantra you can create in moving forward. I think it would do a lot to help with some of that because a line doesn't happen organically, typically, it's pretty intentional and it's a lot of hard work to create." 

He said a lot of site selectors pass on sites due to the lack of alignment between communities and entities. "I think this community can learn a lot what happened in Tonganoxie," Vangalis noted. "Coming up with alignment and getting that level of matching and collaboration going can really help you create a lot of momentum behind what your message is."

Vangalis said he and Ackerman spoke with more than 50 stakeholders and will have results of the research completed around March.