Friday, December 19, 2014

New leader hopes to mesh community, developers’ needs

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Staff Writer | 12/3/2012

Jeff Seymour said he has not been thrown too many curves since he made history Nov. 5 by becoming the first full-time executive director of the Franklin County Development Council.

“Most of my first month has been making contacts and building relationships with our partners who play a role in economic development — not just in Ottawa but throughout Franklin County,” Seymour, 28, said from his office in the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce building, 109 E. Second St., Ottawa.

Jeff Seymour said he has not been thrown too many curves since he made history Nov. 5 by becoming the first full-time executive director of the Franklin County Development Council.

“Most of my first month has been making contacts and building relationships with our partners who play a role in economic development — not just in Ottawa but throughout Franklin County,” Seymour, 28, said from his office in the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce building, 109 E. Second St., Ottawa.

Toward that end, Seymour said, he is working with Ottawa officials, business owners, FCDC board members and other leaders to catalog an inventory of property and buildings that are available to help facilitate future economic development in Ottawa.

“The good news is that Ottawa’s industrial park has been extremely successful, but we’re close to running out of property,” Seymour said. “We are looking to determine where our best opportunities for expansion are located. Communities like Lawrence and Topeka have shovel-ready land available, so we need to make sure we are prepared [to accommodate growth].”

Seymour said he also recently sat down with Wellsville leaders to learn about their needs and is putting together goals to help the community meet its economic development objectives, Seymour said.

Each community in the county has its own needs, Seymour said, and his goal is to help those communities meet their goals.

One piece of that equation involves ensuring the county has an available, trained workforce, he said.

“We have worked with the Communities in Schools program to make sure [area high school] students have the interviewing skills and soft skills they need,” Seymour said.

The FCDC executive director also said he is talking with education professionals at Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan St., Ottawa, and Ottawa University, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, to learn more about their programs.

“I met with Ottawa University officials this morning about expanding their internship program,” Seymour said Monday afternoon.

Seymour said he sees his role as not only helping develop a workforce pipeline in Franklin County, but making sure that the workforce is aligned with the proper training to meet the needs of businesses and industries, as well as be positioned to help the county attract new economic development.

A graduate of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., Seymour has spent the past 2 1/2 years serving the Blackwell, Okla., community as the combined chamber of commerce and economic development organization executive director.

“Oklahoma and Kansas are similar in some respects, but I’m still getting used to the differences,” he said, “like the differences in their tax laws, which can affect economic development.”

Property taxes, for example, play a more significant role in Kansas than they do in Oklahoma, he said.

Seymour said he is excited about the economic development opportunities in Franklin County. He said the county is located in a good position to take advantage of the BNSF Railway Co.’s new intermodal facility near Edgerton and Gardner.

“I think we would be in a good position to attract a logistics company,” Seymour said. “Ottawa also has had success attracting niche-market manufacturers who have carved out good businesses.”

He said Ottawa has a good mix of industry, large and small businesses, and has a quality of life that many workers and prospective business owners find appealing.

“Ottawa is a vibrant community,” Seymour said. “Everybody talks about quality of life, but you can truly find a good quality of life here. It’s close to amenities, but has the small-town feel that most people find appealing. The community has a safe feeling, and it has an attractive downtown.”

The quality of life plus access to the interstate make Ottawa an appealing destination for companies that are considering locating in this area, he said. Seymour also said he has found the people of Ottawa and Franklin County to be very welcoming.

Seymour is striving to get plugged into contacts with the state Department of Commerce and other agencies and organizations that can prove valuable resources in economic development, he said.

“We want to make sure we are expending our time and resources on attracting the right businesses that can help Franklin County grow,” Seymour said. “We need to help existing businesses be successful, but we also have to be prepared for growth.”

Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com

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