WARRENSBURG — The Johnson County Economic Development Corporation hosted its 13th annual Partnership Appreciation Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Johnson County Fairgrounds to show its appreciation towards the partners it helps serve as well as the investors and volunteers who help make the projects possible.

Admission to the event was free, with the JCEDC inviting volunteers, business leaders, elected officials, board members and support service members who have helped in some way to better the economic development in the region.

“It’s so pure in its appreciation,” JCEDC Executive Director Tracy Brantner said. “I never want to lose that expression. It’s so important to express that appreciation at least once a year. I think you’re doing a big disservice if you don’t say, ‘Thank you.’”

Brantner also wanted the event to be a celebration of all the projects JCEDC and its partners have put into action.

“The goal of the night was to share all of those great economic development stories that are happening across the county,” Brantner said. “Even though they might not be the big Dollar Tree project or the big C K [Enterprises] project, they’re all economic development and we’re all a team working towards that goal. I hope we accomplished that.”

JCEDC is flexible in terms of the roles it plays in relation to projects, whether that is as a leader or supporter, depending on the specific needs of each group.

JCEDC helps groups with the individual goals they set themselves, allowing them to make decisions taking into account the needs of their own communities rather than having the JCEDC come in and set the goals for the organization.

Additionally, the projects JCEDC works with organizations on are always on-going.

“You never can say, ‘Well that’s a project and we’re done with that so check the box,’” Brantner said.

Brantner also said JCEDC projects are made possible through the efforts of more than 100 volunteers working in addition to their full-time jobs, out of passion for their community.

During the event, various organization representatives were given the chance to talk about improvements being made to the region with the assistance of JCEDC.

The speakers at the event included Warrensburg Mayor Casey Lund; Leeton Alderman and Leeton Middle/High School Principal Jennifer Corson; Holden City Council Member James McDaniel; Holden Park Board representative Andrew Wakeman; and Knob Noster Mayor Adam Morton.

One term touched upon by multiple speakers in reference to economic development was “placemaking.”

“It’s a twist on quality of life and on what a community, area or region has to offer to potential people that are going to come,” Drew Lewis, JCEDC Board President and emcee for the night, said. “There’s been a shift in the economic development world away from ‘industries are going to come and bring all the people and people will make the town’ to more of ‘the town has to be ready to support people and have some things people are going to be looking for.’ The world of economic development is changing and adapting.”

As the first speaker, Lund mentioned recent and upcoming businesses coming to Warrensburg include a Culver’s, drive-thru Starbucks, super Casey’s and Holiday Inn.

He also mentioned the passing of a recent lodging tax that “will allow us to sell and market the area much better.”

Completed infrastructure projects Lund mentioned included the roundabout on Highway 13 and Hawthorne Boulevard, traffic signal upgrades to help the flow of traffic on Highway 13 and upgraded facilities for Burger King.

Lund also said a new tenant is coming to the spot previously occupied by the MC Sports store in spring 2020, but Lund was unable to identify the occupant at the time.

In a recent community survey conducted, Lund said the consensus was that people wanted more choices in places to go, to shop and find entertainment locally.

Lund went on to say that another important need for Warrensburg at the moment is to “spur housing development.”

“The housing market is very, very hot,” Lund said. “We need housing here in Warrensburg as well as in Johnson County. This is a regional issue.”

Lund was followed by Corson who spoke about preparing students for the talent pool and workforce.

“Leeton has developed innovative ideas to implement among students to ensure each one of them is ready and prepared for life beyond the walls of high school,” Corson said. “This begins in middle school, having students complete interest inventories in areas of career pathways in which they pursue related to their passions.”

The Leeton students then take part in various projects throughout middle and high school to find career interests and talents.

For high school students, one of the projects they were able to take part in included visits to Johnson County businesses with the help of JCEDC.

Following Corson, McDaniel and Wakeman made their way to the podium together.

McDaniel said that in 2016, Holden did not have a line item in their city budget for stormwater (the runoff of rain, snow and ice melt) issues.

There were limited funds in the city budget for stormwater initiatives until Wakeman proposed a half-cent sales tax that generated revenue towards Holden Parks and Recreation and the Stormwater Committee.

According to McDaniel, a 20-acre area has recently been purchased for a water control facility that will help combat stormwater complications.

McDaniel said the JCEDC was “instrumental” in the process of qualification requests and statement of qualification plans and provided a great source of information on the topic.

Wakeman said the sales tax that was passed also helped contribute toward an all-inclusive playground in Holden.

“Collaboration and working together is what’s going to continue to improve our county and state as a whole,” Wakeman said.

Morton was the last speaker, focusing on the importance of placemaking.

Morton described it as making a place where residents and visitors feel “safe” and “welcomed,” making them want to tell their friends and invite them to visit.

“At the heart of placemaking is the mission of strengthening the connection between people and the places that they share and in turn, enhancing individual and public health and well-being, happiness and a sense of belonging,” Morton said. “What does this have to do with economic development? Everything. This leads to the attraction and retention of market activity across every sector: commercial, residential and industrial.”

Morton said he has seen the effects first-hand in Knob Noster as in the past four years, the number of vacant downtown storefronts dropped from roughly 75% to roughly 10%.

“We would just be nowhere if it weren’t for JCEDC support and the positive vision that we are all trying to accomplish,” Morton said.

The event closed with a recognition of JCEDC investors, who were awarded plaques being handed out by Lewis and Leeton Mayor Taylor Elwell.

Staff Writer Dustin Steinhoff can be reached by emailing dustin.steinhoff@dsjnow.com or by calling (660) 747-8123.

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