To what extent should the city link economic development incentives to specific wage levels, and what should those wage levels be?
Manhattan is in a great position at the moment. We have an educated workforce complemented by a steady stream of retirees from Ft. Riley. We have a source of development dollars to assist companies coming in and we have NBAF which will be a magnet for related research facilities to locate here. We can afford to be choosey in deciding which companies should get enticements to locate in the area. We have also established the Regional Planning Organization which has done detailed studies of demographic factors needed by relocating companies. We need to work as a region to attract business. Geary County has good proximity to I-70, Pott County has business park land, and we have both a tech park and a small university research park. Local unemployment is low so now is the time to bring in companies that pay well, offer benefits and provide satisfying jobs. Low wage earners often need more social services and are a drain on our resources. Let us approach economic development prudently and with caution.
What kinds of economic development are most important to the city?
The most important consideration with economic development is that the newly recruited companies are a good fit with our communities. People often think that all growth is positive, and that it will enrich all concerned. However, bigger is not always better, and bigger often means more competition for local business. There may be more real estate to be sold, but there will probably be more realtors. We need to concentrate carefully on strengthening our present businesses and support new enterprises that have a connection to Manhattan and K-State and avoid those who are just floating through, picking up economic development money on their way to another location. We also need to have a conversation with our schools and tech-college to explain and layout our economic development priorities so that they will be training the workforce new companies need. Manhattan is undertaking a comprehensive land use plan which should include a definition of our economic development goals.
Should the city use tax abatements to bring businesses to Manhattan?
One reason I worked hard to get the 1/2 cent sales tax renewed last November was that I think cities and counties do need to have monetary enticements in their eco-devo tool box. There are other “carrots” cities can use, including: free land, work force training and, of course, tax abatements. Tax abatements, in my opinion, should be the last to be offered. When the city abates taxes on a company or creates a TIF district, they also reduce tax income for Riley county and its school districts. Eco-devo offerings should be tangible items which can be withdrawn if a company does not perform as promised. Tax abatements also tie the hands of future city commissions and lessen their ability to make policy by tying up future funds.