The trend for both young families and senior citizens to rely on communications via the Internet spurred the Oberlin-Decatur Area Economic Development board to put a lot of emphasis this past year on improvements to the (www.oberlinks.com) community web site and to dip its hand into social media through an Oberlin Facebook page. The director is working with webmaster Joann Lerew and Decatur Tomorrow Action Team member Jeff Leitner to keep information up-to-date and to make both communication options more user friendly. A new community events calendar is now operational so all activities and events can be effectively promoted on time to draw more area participants in 2013.
While several public meetings were held in 2012 to discuss private investment in a new hotel for Oberlin, local investor interests have been on hold as they are waiting to see when the county and city will finalize a Neighborhood Revitalization plan that offers tax rebates. The program is beneficial to other business owners and residents who may be planning to do new construction or an expansion or remodeling project as it offers rebates on existing properties as well. A 30-unit hotel located near the Gateway would serve as an asset to the city when large events are held at the civic center as well as other local activities which draw people from a distance. Initial estimates for such a facility would require at least $750,000 equity from private individuals to make the project feasible. Preliminary drawings are available for view at the EDC office. The hotel project, as previously mentioned, ties into the 5000-5500-foot airport runway realignment proposal that has been on and off the table for more than six years. More work remains to be done to see that project rejuvenated but essential contacts have already been made in order to move forward.
A similar group representing the economic development corporation spent a day in Topeka last March visiting with Steve Anderson, state budget director; National Guard director, and Secretaries of both the Agriculture and Commerce Departments. They came away realizing that one upcoming opportunity for Kansas may center on dairies wishing to relocate from more populated areas to rural confines if they want to stay in the business. That information led to the board voting to circulate a petition to get a special question put to a vote in the November election that, if passed, would allow corporate dairies to locate in Decatur County. Voters did approve the question and corporate dairies are now allowed to move here if the state recruits them from other areas. EDC board members have made numerous contacts to date and follow-up calls continue.
Health issues sidelined the manager of Sunflower Recreation last May which left operation of the bowling alley mainly up to the EDC director, board members willing to work as well as numerous community volunteers as the center was kept running throughout the summer months. Rick Salem signed on as manager in August but with his racing schedule not yet finished for the season the volunteers continued to work well into the fall. The same scenario exists this summer as volunteers will be needed on weekends to keep the facility open. Again, interested volunteers should call the EDC director at 475-2901. Anyone interested in participating in fall leagues should call Rick Salem at 475-7010. By November of 2012 the bowling alley was busier than ever with four leagues and a Sunday mixed travel league hitting the lanes as scheduled. There has also been enough interest to purchase new balls, shoes and merchandise for a handy pro shop. New pins were installed in May. The next step will be erecting new signage for the cinema and bowling alley which is close to getting final approval from a much appreciated donor.
On the business side of the ledger the last two revolving loans approved by the EDC went to Green Oil Well Services in Jennings to fill a growing need in the drilling and pumping industry. That company was started by an experienced couple in the oil servicing business, Eric and Chris Green. The other loan went to Stallman Construction. The new entrepreneur is a local construction worker wanting to manage his own operation. The EDC revolving loan program has been used to finance four start-up businesses and two business expansions in the past five years amounting to an investment in the county of $175,000.
As for the local business incubator at 104 S. Penn, Kelly’s Home Medical outgrew the small office space in the BEE center in 2011 and moved to the south portion of the building previously rented by Bridges Insurance Group. That vacancy left room for another new venture, Jill Reichert, E.A. who offers tax preparations. Another new business that moved into the center during December of 2012 is a thrift shop called, “New To You”. Several office spaces are available to rent by calling the EDC office at 475-2901
The state’s new incentive program to draw people to rural counties known as the Rural Opportunity Zone has been a success to date as more than $14,000 has been spent to pay back a portion of student loans owed by people that have moved into the county and remain here after the first year, as program guidelines require. Last year that accounted for nine more young families coming to Oberlin.