Belton happy with switch to bring economic development in-house

Special to the Democrat MissourianDecember 6, 2013 

A newly designated interstate highway plus an improved economy has caused cities in the Interstate 49 corridor to take a new look at how they market themselves to developers.

As a result, there’s a mini trend among those cities to change their economic development departments.

Belton became the latest city in the area to do some tinkering when it eliminated the city-supported Belton Corporation for Economic Development, replacing it with an economic development department run by city staff.

The department, overseen by Jay Leipzig, is intended to smooth the way for potential developers while also marketing the city. It has already had results, said Mayor Jeff Davis.

The city’s new economic development website has brought in several inquiries. And the city’s recent positive article in Ingram’s Magazine, partly due to city marketing efforts, also has made officials happy.

Leipzig said Academy Sports + Outdoors is seeking to locate in the Belton Gateway development northwest of 163rd Street and Interstate 49 while Menards has revived plans to build a store across the street south of 163rd, also known as Route Y. Menards could start construction next summer or fall.

“We’re out there now,” said Davis. “We didn’t even have a website before.”

The Belton Corporation for Economic Development has been around since 1992. Initial results from the corporation were good, Leipzig said, but eventually the public/private corporation lost its zing.

Davis said the city changed course because, “we had little or no control over economic development when it was out-of-house.”

But he thinks the city has been better informed with its own department than it was with the corporation.

“I was on the council five years and I never saw any economic development reports, ever,” he said.

The change will be a money saver as well.

The city supported the corporation to the tune of $100,000 per year. The department that replaces it will cost about $15,000 less to operate.

It has a staff of two, including Leipzig.

The city recently became a member of the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Cass County Corporation for Economic Development.

Lately developer interest in Belton has been “booming,” Davis said.

Belton has high hopes for development because of its location as a southern gateway into the city and because it is close to the Centerpoint Intermodal transportation hub being built at the old Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base.

Other cities in the area also recently have tweaked their economic development plans.

Grandview recently decided to go the opposite direction, contracting with Zimmer Real Estate to do what was formerly a city staff job.

And Lee’s Summit did some juggling within existing city staff to combine an assistant city manager’s position with director of development.

If cities are competing for development, it’s a friendly rivalry, said Leipzig.

Retail and residential growth is bound to happen with the intermodal and road upgrades, he said.

Davis agreed.

“We don’t want Kansas City to suffer at all. We need to work together,” he said.

The new department is meant to keep city officials in the loop and give developers a clear and convenient path from permitting through construction. There will be no city-backed bonds to lure development, he said.

“We’re not going to give the farm away.”

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