The head of the statewide Kansas Chamber says he will go to bat with state officials to find money for Ellis County’s proposed $11 million Northwest Business Corridor.
“This is a project that I’m gong to be happy to advocate for,” said Kansas Chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb speaking Monday night to the Ellis County Commission during their regular meeting. “I certainly think you have a compelling case. I don’t know what you are competing against, but it certainly seems like it’s a compelling case.”
Cobb said he’ll push for priority funding for the corridor project in a meeting he’ll have later this month with Secretary of Commerce David Toland, and in an upcoming meeting with newly appointed Secretary of Transportation Julie Lorenz.
“I’ll approach both secretaries and make sure it’s on their radar,” Cobb told The Hays Daily News. “I can’t promise any magic by any means, but squeaky wheels do get greased.”
The Kansas Chamber advocates for businesses of all sizes, and has members in 82 of the state’s 105 counties, including in Ellis County, he said.
“Hays and Ellis County are very important parts of the Kansas economy,” Cobb said. “We want to do everything we can to support business growth in Hays.”
He said there are similar cases, for example when Gov. Jeff Colyer won funding for a road serving Caterpillar Work Tools Inc. in Wamego.
“Four million dollars is a lot of money, but in the scheme of roads it’s not as much,” Cobb told the commissioners. ”The facility there makes the huge loaders that are practically the size of the commission room here, or the width, and they had some difficulties getting those products to market. They had to go all the way to Manhattan to get on I-70.”
The proposed Northwest Business Corridor Project north and west of Hays would improve three heavily traveled county roads in a busy industrial area, as well as the Exit 157 intersection where on- and off-ramps to Interstate 70 converge with 230th Avenue.
Cobb came out from Topeka to see the existing roads, currently two narrow, hilly rock roads traveled daily by the 360 employees and big semi-tractor trailer rigs hauling equipment and going to and from oilfield supply manufacturer Hess Services.
Cobb also toured the Hess facilities with Ellis County Commissioner Dustin Roths. Cobb told the commissioners Monday that they are right to promote Hess and the other businesses in the corridor.
“I’ve been in the public policy business for a long time,” Cobb said. “Economic growth does not come from recruiting, you cannot recruit your way to economic growth. It does not mean that you shouldn’t try to recruit companies to Ellis County or Hays. But the growth comes from Hess or those companies that started here ... from, the homegrown companies. Yes, we want more companies to move here, we love those companies that come here, but that’s not where we really get growth.”
Hess Services makes oilfield production equipment for customers throughout North Dakota, Colorado and Texas from its multi-building industrial campus at the southwest corner of 230th Avenue and Feedlot Road.
With $75 million in annual revenue, Hess Services paid nearly $1 million in local property tax in 2018, and is aggressively hiring.
Each week, as many as 70 to 80 semi tractors pulling drop-deck trailers pull out of the yard as they haul oversized storage tanks and other equipment. The easiest route would be 230th Avenue, for accessing the on- and off-ramps to Interstate 70. But instead the trucks take Feedlot Road, which although narrow, is paved with asphalt.
Hess officials have said they’re working with a developer to build a truck travel plaza at Exit 157. Besides a truck stop, the planned 10-acre development will include pads for restaurant and retail development as well.
County efforts to find funding
Surfaced with limestone, 230th Avenue is an unpaved road running north and south of I-70 west of Hays at Exit 157. South of I-70, 230th becomes the U-183 highway bypass. Trucks use the bypass and 230th Avenue in combination with Feedlot Road to circumvent Hays traffic when en route north or south on US-83.
Traffic counts indicate higher daily use of the Northwest Business Corridor than other county roads planned for improvements.
The county in April asked Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan, to fund its $2.2 million grant request for the road. The Kansas Department of Transportation then pledged to match $1 million in funding, contingent on the Hansen Foundation grant. On Monday evening, Ellis County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said the Hansen request did not pan out.
“We had applied for some funding from a foundation and heard back at the end of April and were not selected for funding from that particular organization,” Smith-Hanes said.
“I’ve met with a number of folks in the community,” he said. “We are continuing to explore different funding options.”
He said there is essentially no single source of funding that’s going to come through in the amount of money that would be needed.
“I do believe that this will require a county bond of some variety,” Smith-Hanes said, saying he’s spoken with the county’s bond counsel.
“He gave me some great information, but also suggested that the next step for us would be to work with a financial advisor to actually develop a financial plan for the funding and there would be several possibilities at that point,” he said. “It would not all have to be in the form of a bond.”
Smith-Hanes said he’ll issue a request for proposals to select a firm. He said other steps are also underway to move the project forward, noting a county review committee has reviewed state qualifications by design engineers and made a recommendation.
“We’ve entered into contract negotiations with one particular firm and I’m hoping to bring that to you next Monday, it may be two Mondays from now, depending on how quick we can get everything nailed down,” Smith-Hanes said. “But we are moving along with that.”
County Commissioner Bud Schlyer thanked Cobb for his help.
“I just want to thank you for coming here tonight and we will appreciate any assistance you can give us with the project,” Schlyer said.
Cobb said Hays residents and all Kansans should be proud of Hess Services.
“Sending things out from Kansas and money from Texas and North Dakota coming to Kansas,” Cobb said, “that’s a good thing.”