Economic Development in Greensburg, Kansas
by Dee Chandler
When Greensburg and Kiowa County residents decided to rebuild after the tornado, they knew they had to do things differently. After years of having a declining population, they knew they couldn't just let things stay stagnant. They wanted to become the model for how rural America can try things in new ways and thus the decision was made to become a "living laboratory" for asset-based sustainability. That is not to say what some people call "green", but rather using our natural resources and abilities in our area to grow a town that is economically viable and sustainable for now and for future generations.
To start the process, they looked to build back with the most highly energy efficient buildings possible at that time. Natural lighting, solar panels, wind power and geothermal wells were all utilized to minimize energy usage. The rebuild has attracted and continues to attract a lot of attention worldwide. Visitors from all over the world stop in everyday. Per capita, Greensburg has the highest number of LEED certified buildings in the world.
To help make it work, the Kiowa County Economic Development Corporation (KCED) was formed. Their main goals were to help grow local businesses, encourage entrepreneurship and to bring in small outside industries that fit in with the living laboratory idea.
Towards the first two goals, the KCED worked with The Wichita State University Entrepreneurship Center to develop an innovative course called "Growing Rural Businesses". It was designed to give practical, applied knowledge for everyday use in helping solve the unique difficulties of running a successful business in a rural community. The program is so unique, the professors came out to Greensburg to teach it, which they have never done before. They intend to work individually with all the attendees as the year progresses so that they can make the program a model for the state.
The rebuild itself has attracted numerous alternative energy and energy efficiency companies. The KCED is currently working with a solar panel manufacturer, an energy efficient housing building system company and a small biomass producer. With the recent completion of an industrial/business park on the edge of Greensburg, there is now a place to put them. The KCED, however, is not just reacting to who comes in the door; they are also being aggressive in seeking out small, innovative companies and helping find the funding they need. Due to the numerous private and public entities that helped during the rebuild process, the county has an enormous network of contacts that are eager to help with our efforts.
Tourism has also become an economic development tool that hadn't been fully developed. Greensburg is working with a marketing company to come up with a plan to capitalize on the new Big Well Museum, the Kiowa County History Museum and all the rebuilding efforts.
The living laboratory that has been built is destined to succeed in attracting the kinds of sustainable, alternative energy companies the rebuild set out to attract. The reasons it will be successful are that we retain our pioneering, rural values and add a global vision.