PHILLIPSBURG — Phillips County boasts a population of 5,500 people, with about half of those living in the city of Phillipsburg.
The northwest Kansas county sits on US-36 highway near the Nebraska border. It offers museums, Logan Lake and a wildlife refuge — and it could be used as the photo beside “rural” in the dictionary.
What Phillipsburg also has is a popular downtown district where almost every storefront is full, said Nick Poels, executive director of Phillips County Economic Development.
Poels gave significant credit for the renewed energy in Phillipsburg to the fact that, since 2010, the county has sent attendees to a Destination Business Bootcamp in Colorado, run by marketing expert Jon Schallert. Along with the educational aspects of the program, he said sending multiple people created relationships among business owners.
“So often you have local businesses that don’t talk to each other,” Poels said. “The very first group that we sent in 2010, they still meet on a regular basis with a mentorship network where they can bounce ideas off each other. Those businesses are incredibly strong.”
When others go through the program and come back to town, they spur interest in those who have attended before, creating a cycle of enthusiasm and ideas. Schallert also will be visiting Phillipsburg in June and will be visiting businesses of previous attendees.
“I believe this network is one of the foundations of our entrepreneurial mission up here now,” Poels said. “Pretty much every business has been through it.”
Those connections and working together have helped get the small town through tough times. In 2009, a large finance and insurance company — and a large local employer — went bankrupt.
“As a result, a couple of hundred people lost their jobs,” Poels said. “In a community this size, that’s like dropping a bomb. The benefit that came out of that was we had so many people that were tied here, whether it be through agriculture or a family connection, that there was this massive spur of entrepreneurship.”
Utilizing NetWork Kansas, a statewide entrepreneurial organization that promotes education and capital for business owners, the community stabilized.
“Our population over the following 24 months dropped very, very little, and we were expecting it to take a massive hit,” Poels said.
On a day in April, Poels said he had just returned from meeting his wife for lunch on the courthouse square. Every single parking spot was full. The destination marketing was one piece of the puzzle, but most important were the people.
The economic development organization works to provide the community with tools and resources to survive and thrive.