What's the Deal with Economic Development?
One of the most common conversations I’ve been having during the campaign is about economic development – what is it, why does it matter to us, and how can we do more of it without sacrificing everything we enjoy about Shawnee?
I love these questions, and I thought it might be helpful to outline a few facts, as well as my perspective on what we should be doing.
Our biggest issue as a city is the lack of diversity in our tax base. Traditionally a bedroom community, Shawnee has long-relied on residential property taxes to fund our city budget. However, as the city continued to grow (as did the infrastructure to accommodate this growth), we didn’t bring in as many additional businesses to help offset these increasing costs, as most of our peer cities did.
Because of that, Shawnee has only a 25% commercial tax base…leaving the bulk of the remaining cost of running the city on the backs of those residential property taxpayers (homeowners). This is unsustainable, particularly as our infrastructure continues to age and increase in cost. Diversifying our tax base is the only sustainable, long-term means of lowering the residential property tax burden, while maintaining the quality of services we expect as residents.
So, how do we do that? There are several steps we can take:
1. Continue to assess our internal processes. We’ve made progress over the last few years within our planning and development department, but there is more work to be done to continue to change the reputation we’ve gained of not being business and development friendly.
2. Update our plan. The city’s comprehensive plan – the document that helps to guide development in Shawnee – has not been significantly updated since 1987. This puts us at a competitive disadvantage, creates challenges when considering development, and causes uncertainty for our residents. Until we know where we want to go and develop a modernized and responsive plan to get there, we can never truly make progress.
3. Tell our story. Shawnee has largely not participated in the regional conversation on economic development, and that means as potential employers are looking at the metro, we’re not on their minds. We must change that and give Shawnee a seat at the regional table – by playing an active role, and not being afraid to compete. We’ve got a great story to tell, and we should be telling it to folks outside of our city limits.
4. Leverage our strengths. I believe there are three areas of Shawnee that present the most opportunity – our downtown, the youth sports corridor along Johnson Drive, and our growing industrial region near K-7. We should be actively promoting these areas – and the mayor should be playing a meaningful part in those conversations, particularly along Nieman, which has struggled with the lengthy construction, and where we’ve got one of the metro’s only federal opportunity zones.
5. Reinvest. As we bring in new and expand existing businesses, we should look at reinvesting a portion of that growth towards added funds to address our aging infrastructure needs, while providing tax relief to our residents. Providing for our core services is a critical component of business attraction and retention.
The goal of this is not growth for the sake of growth – or to “keep up” with our neighbors, but rather, to create a more balanced, stable financial future for our city; one that maintains our community feel, ensures a vibrant and dynamic economy with additional restaurant, retail, and employment options, provides for our infrastructure and public safety needs, and lessens the burden on our residents.