Purchase photos

Avoiding economic despair





Amid all the turmoil, Ellis County -- and much of northwest Kansas -- has been going about its business quietly, all but shielded from the calamity caused by the economic downturn.

"We really have a lot of things going for us," said Randy Walker, president of Bank of Hays and a lead observer on the county's economy.

He was asked to give a presentation in the fall at Fort Hays State University on the county's economy.

"I did quite a little bit of research," he said.

His findings tell plenty about why Ellis County's remained strong.

"Our two primary industries, being agriculture and oil, have been hitting on all cylinders," he said. "Those are the two big drivers that bring a lot of money into the area."

And there's FHSU, where he gave the presentation.

"Their enrollment is up and Virtual College enrollment is up, and that brings in a lot of money," Walker said.

He also points to Hays Medical Center, and its network of health care, that is the largest employer in the county.

FHSU, incidentally, is the second largest.

"I think it's really kind of a combination of those things," Walker said of why Hays and Ellis County didn't slip into the doldrums of the Great Recession.

As a result, the wealth of residents in Ellis County was able to grow, a sure sign of prosperity.

He's watched that wealth grow since Bank of Hays opened in 2004.

"Every year in June," he said, "the FDIC publishes deposits for cities and counties."

When he looked at those numbers in preparation for his FHSU talk, there was a huge difference between Ellis County and the rest of Kansas.

Between June 2004 and June 2011, he found, deposits in Ellis County were up 63 percent. Kansas deposits were up 31 percent.

"Deposits in Ellis County increased twice as much as the rest of the state," Walker said. "That's dramatic. I think that tells you what's going on. I guess that's proof of what's going on.

"We've always felt things are better here than in the rest of the country. We've had a wonderful economy."