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Progress 2013: Partnerships dominate coalition projects in 2013

2012 was a busy year for the Ellis County Coalition, and 2013 is starting out the same. We have been working on a number of initiatives in the community, too many to list all in this space, so I would like to take a moment and discuss a few of the highlights.

First is our effort regarding a convention center in Hays. The project has changed some since our first announcement. We have taken a different approach to putting this project together. The Ellis County Coalition is forming a 501(c)3 nonprofit for the purpose of developing the convention center. Through the efforts of the task force, we determined a 501(c)3 would better fill the role of development and ownership of the facility. After construction is complete, the facility will be operated and maintained by FHSU, per the original intent. The location still is planned for north of Interstate 70. The coalition is waiting for the IRS to make a determination on our tax exemption status. This process takes time, but we hope to have our determination soon. Then we can continue to move forward with the project

Another initiative we have worked on is the issue of affordable housing. The lack of affordable housing has hampered a number of businesses from expanding. This is a regional problem, not just an issue with Hays. The coalition partnered with our local real estate agents to contract with a consultant for a housing needs assessment with RDG, the consultant working on the 15-year comprehensive plan. The results confirmed our impression of Hays housing -- we are not meeting demand for affordable housing, and the future demand will compound the problem. The next step is to work with city staff to identify what issues exist that deter construction of affordable housing, and how to correct them.

We were excited to receive eCommunity status from Network Kansas. This rating gives Ellis County access to state funds that will form the basis for a revolving loan fund for start-ups and small expansions in Ellis County. The coalition, partnering with the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Hays Development Corp., and other organizations, form the leadership team that created the guidelines for the program. Combining access to training with the Network Kansas funding, the Ellis County eCommunity program is a great tool to help launch small businesses in our community.

The last topic I want to discuss is assistance for existing businesses. There are a lot of services available to businesses that aren't always used. The coalition is continuing in its efforts to educate and assist businesses in determining what programs they are eligible to use.

We also have started writing grants on behalf of businesses that don't have the time or experience to apply for state programs. These programs can assist in a variety of ways, from training to financing. Be sure to contact the Ellis County Coalition before you start an expansion project. Timing is important, and we want to ensure you do not lose eligibility by not reaching out to your area resources at the start of your project. 2013 is looking to be a busy year, be sure to let us help your business grow.

Aaron White is executive director of Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.