Economics

To Lift an Aging Farmland, Residents Pitch In on Nascent Development

by Kay Haffner March 09, 2020

Anxiety over the 2020 Census is tangible here in Gove County (pop. 2,600), an Aging Farmland in northwest Kansas, where the population has declined 3% since the last census. Gove’s struggles are shared. More than 76% of Aging Farmlands’ 161 communities have declined in population since 2010.

Amid the predictions of another drop in Gove, there are glimmers of buoyancy. One is Grainfield Community Development Committee’s revitalization of Second Street Place — proportionally the equivalent of a strip mall or an office complex in a more metropolitan area. This facility already houses successful businesses, with the potential for growth. Hundreds of volunteer hours, from inception to completion, made the project possible. By putting significant skin in the game, the GCDC is not only breathing new life into Grainfield but also keeping dollars in Gove County.

What Gove County Runs On

Gove County’s economy is fueled by agriculture. Ag-oriented sectors employ 776 people and produce about 100% of the area’s Gross Regional Product, according to the state of Kansas. But that doesn’t mean there’s no demand for office space. GCDC has been renting our community building to different companies and nonprofits on days we’re not using it. And people have been calling to inquire about more open spaces to rent.

Besides agriculture, Gove is known across the region for Bluestem Medical, a thriving practice that employs seven medical professionals, including five physicians. When Bluestem approached GCDC around July 2016 about setting up a satellite medical clinic in Grainfield, we started searching for a location. While we never wanted to be real estate owners, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity — and we did what we needed to do to make it happen.

GCDC purchased the building in August 2016, envisioning what a health and business complex would require. The purchase fit GCDC’s mission: “To assist and encourage community development and involvement by bringing new families and businesses to the area; supporting our local school system, beautifying the town, encouraging local spending and assisting with community activities.”

The reconstruction covered three separate entities in three phases.

  1. The middle section’s gray building houses GCDC-Bluestem Medical’s satellite clinic, which opened in June 2019 and is now open two days a week. This location offers most of the same services as their main clinic in Quinter: lab draws, shots, appointments, walk-ins, sports physicals, Department of Transportation physicals, stitches, injections, and small procedures, to name a few.
  2. The east section’s burgundy building is home for Heier Level Salon and Spa.
  3. The west section’s blue building will house Red Dog Outfitters, which will operate their guided hunting business and display taxidermy.

Changing the Landscape

The redevelopment of Second Street Place has been a game-changer for our town. First, the value of a medical clinic is priceless for people needing medical care, especially the elderly. There’s no longer a need to travel 40 miles roundtrip to Quinter for simple blood pressure checks. The business community has benefited as patients shop at other nearby establishments in town, including the salon, a restaurant, a grocery store, a gas station, a liquor store, an auto repair shop, and a bank. Having Heier Level Salon and Spa now renting the east section has kept more hair and nail customers in town. Plus, the owner offers services typically available only in larger cities and has brought her past clientele from out of the area to Grainfield. We hope this development is a draw for others looking to settle here.

This location stands as an example of how Gove residents continually repurpose buildings as owners and needs change. The west section was once part of a drugstore, pool hall, and an apartment before the entire building was sold in the early ’60s. That owner opened Stubbs Radio and TV and added on a showroom and workspace. Upon retiring, he sold it to a construction business owner. Later, a couple purchased the building, and remodeled one section for the wife’s insurance office and used the other sections as storage. The couple then sold it to GCDC.

Tapping a Village of Resources

This latest iteration is possible through grants we obtained in the past two years. One in particular, the Kansas Volunteers Impact PRIDE (VIP) program, helps communities help themselves through sweat equity and volunteerism at the local level. We used this grant to tear down the old portion of Second Street Place and slowly reconstruct the space, building two exam rooms, a bathroom, storage room, and reception area. We did our best to learn how to install, tape, mud, and texture the sheet rock; paint and install trim; install the hot water heater, toilet, and sinks; paint walls; landscape; and so much more.

We leveraged a village of helpers. The GCDC, made up of 13 active members, is 85% women, and we relied on many friends, husbands, and knowledgeable businesses to guide us. Many residents volunteered to pick up supplies and do construction. Children of GCDC members stepped up, too. The City Council let us use their dump truck when tearing down the previous walls in Second Street Place and volunteered their time. By tracking all the volunteer hours, donated equipment, and materials given by GCDC members and their families, youth, and community members, we received $13,000 from PRIDE.

To date, we’ve invested about $125,000 in the building, including the purchase and renovations; nearly $91,000 came from 12 grants over two years. We purchased the building with $35,000 from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, which provides opportunities for northwest Kansans to have a high quality of life by working to reverse the population decline, increase economic opportunities, and strengthen critical community services.

About $56,000 went to a new roof, flooring, HVAC, electric, exterior and interior renovations, sewer, and plumbing. Through fundraisers, we’re repaying a low-interest loan from a local resident. Of the $90,000 we spent on renovations, we purchased 84% of the supplies in Gove and used contractors in the county. We estimate about $75,000 went back into our county in addition to the loan interest.

Of course, we had setbacks. Primarily, the project took longer than we expected for many reasons. We all had full-time jobs and a fall crop harvest to tend to. We had to wait on funds and contractors. We changed the layouts many times before construction to maximize the use of space and had to redo pieces because of our inexperience.

As we progressed, we kept grantors, volunteers, and donors in the loop and sent them thank-you cards. In the warmer weather, we’ll invite all our helpers, supporters, renters, and community members to celebrate.

Now, we’re waiting for all three businesses to be up and running and the real estate taxes to be determined before setting the rents. The idea is to be affordable for them and doable for us — we don’t see this as a money maker. Our goal is not to be building owners, so we don’t know if we’ll own Second Street Place 10 to 20 years from now. Two things are sure: Our success has silenced the doubters, and we’ll want any future owner to build on this foundation for the community’s growth.

Kay Haffner is co-chairman of the Grainfield Community Development Committee in Gove County, Kansas.

Vol. 2 September 2019

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