Doug Williams, executive director of Grow Hays, told the City of Hays commissioners last week that the non-profit organization made good progress in 2022. Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post
By BECKY KISERHay Post
In the view of Doug Williams, executive director of Grow Hays, the biggest project for the nonprofit economic development group in 2022 was the microfactory.
It is a 30,000 square foot manufacturing facility to be built near Ninth and Commerce Parkways that will use an incubator for business startups and small manufacturer expansion.
The Grow Hays Microfactory will be built just north of the Army Reserve on East 9th Street. Photo courtesy of the City of Hays.
Once completed, the microfactory will be an incubator for 4-6 industrial startups at a time, allowing manufacturers to start operations at a much lower cost than if they had to set up in their own premises.
Williams told the City of Hays commissioners last week that the project had been in the planning stage for more than two years. Thanks to gifts, grants and the work of a diverse group of individuals in Hays and beyond, the ground was broken for the microfactory in October.
Slides of Grow Hays
The City of Hays issued Industrial Income Bonds for the project, “allowing us to avoid (city) sales tax on building materials, as well as a 10-year tax break, both huge, by allowing us to pass it on to tenants who can be there for lower rent, grow their business, then grow so they can bring in the next,” Williams explained.
Construction costs have skyrocketed recently, raising labor costs from $3.8 million to about $4.3 million, “so we’re still looking for the cash … It’s the environment we live in.”
Williams touched on other 2022 highlights during his annual report to the city commission.
As part of its partnership with Network Kansas, Grow Hays made six loans totaling just under $200,000 to new small businesses last year.
“Thanks to a program that Network Kansas has with the Patterson Foundation, not only did those companies get their loans, they got a portion of that loan they were given.”
“Imagine Ellis County” is marketing the area to attract new residents with a targeted attention to people who may want to leave the busy living conditions in the Denver Range and Rockies area.
Business activity in Hays last year was robust, according to Williams, with 17 new businesses or acquisitions opening in the community.
The trend continues into the new year with five more ongoing to open over the next 60-90 days.
Williams said there are retail developers actively looking to the community, including a couple of large retailers.
“It’s always a challenge to get those people to do something. And it’s even more challenging now based on the cost of building and how much some of these big retailers are willing to pay for rent.”
A developer is looking for a STAR tie-in for Hays.
State sales tax and tax bonds are a financing tool that allows Kansas municipalities to issue bonds to finance the development of large commercial, entertainment and tourism projects. The bonds are paid off through the tax revenue generated by the development.
When it comes to the hierarchy of needs for rural areas, Williams says housing is the number one need, followed closely by educational opportunities.
Last year’s housing in Hays is a great story to tell, Williams told the committee.
Infrastructure for the Heart of America Tallgrass Addition Phase 1, northwest of 22nd and Wheatland in Hays, was completed in late 2021.
All 36 lots are sold, with 19 homes occupied. Seventeen houses are under construction; five of these will be completed in the next 30-60 days.
Williams considers Tallgrass a “team effort”.
“You all, (the city) approved an RHID in 2020. (Rural Housing Incentive Districts provide rebates to developers in housing construction in rural communities.) Heart of America (a local non-profit developer ) was willing to invest $1.5 million in infrastructure, not knowing when or if they would get their money back.”
Tallgrass Addition Phase 2 is 18 batches and almost done. The two developers who have been most active in Phase 1 each bought nine lots in Phase 2 and plan to continue building homes as fast as possible, according to Williams.
“Certainly, we should see some work at that stage this spring.”
Commissioner Sandy Jacobs praised Williams and others for their work.
“This is huge when you think about what’s happened in this community basically in the last 15 months.
“Your foresight, the foresight of Heart of America Corporation, all the work that the city has done, everyone should give each other a pat on the back,” Jacobs said. “We haven’t had anything like this for a long time.”
“This is exactly what we wanted,” added Shaun Musil, commissioner. “We all wanted people to move to Hays, more homes to open (for sale while current residents move to Tallgrass.) Well done to everyone involved.”
The residential project is expected to expand this spring to the development across the street north on Wheatland Drive.
Williams shared the story of an email he received about three years ago from a Topeka resident who wanted to move back to Hays, where their children live, but couldn’t find accommodations.
“They moved into their own house two months ago in Tallgrass,” Williams said with a smile. “I think it tells the story of what development has been and what it can be for others.”
However, according to Williams, that’s not enough.
He shared statistics from the city’s planning and development division showing that 55 total single and multi-family housing units were built in Hays last year.
To sustain the 1% annual population growth city leaders would like to see in Hays, 85 to 90 new units need to be built each year.
At that point in his presentation, Williams publicly announced plans for The Grove, a 100-unit retirement-friendly housing development with a community center to be built north of HaysMed on Canterbury Drive.
Grow HaysDevelopment map for The Grove, a $40 million mixed housing development and planned community center north of HaysMed in Canterbury. Grow hays
Although Musil has expressed some skepticism about completing the more than 100 proposed housing units, he supports the community center concept.
The other commissioners, with Alaina Cunningham participating by telephone, were enthusiastic about the plan.
“Disruption is always a time for innovation,” Commissioner Reese Barrick said, “and when you want to invest money in things and try to move forward during those disruptions, even if it doesn’t seem like the right time, it’s the right time.” because that puts you ahead of the game. … It’s one of the things I appreciate about the people at Hays … We’re moving forward aggressively.”