After Ellis County officials found out last month they will not receive grant funding from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation to help pay for road improvements in the Northwest Business Corridor, the county is looking for alternative funding sources.
The county had set aside $800,000 for improvements to the more than $15 million project in hopes of leveraging that money to get additional financing from other entities. In April, the Kansas Department of Transportation announced a pledge of a $1 million grant contingent upon the county receiving the grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation
Initial estimates to improve sight lines and pave Feedlot Road from 230th Avenue to U.S. 183 and 230th Avenue from Feedlot Road to 55th Street are more than $15.7 million.
While the county looks for different funding sources, Alan Cobb the Kansas Chamber of Commerce President and CEO said he thinks it’s an easy project for the chamber to support. Cobb was in western Kansas on Monday and took a tour of the area and Hess Services.
“Seems pretty straightforward,” said Cobb of the project. “If we can be of help, I certainly want to do that.”
Cobb said Monday the chamber works in the statehouse with a number of goals that include expand innovation and entrepreneurship and improve business infrastructure. He said Hess Services is a great example of their goals in Kansas.
“Business infrastructure includes paving a road to get business vehicles to and from a major company, a major part of the Kansas economy,” Cobb said.
Ellis County Commissioner Dustin Roths, who invited Cobb to Monday’s meeting and toured the area northwest of Hays with him, said he reached out to Cobb during a Leadership Kansas meeting. Roths is a member of the 2019 Leadership Kansas class.
He said Monday the improvements won’t only benefit Hess Services.
“We have a feedlot that wants to expand. We also have a new travel plaza that will be coming in,” Roths said. “It’s taking care of businesses that are already there and expanding what we have for the future.”
Cobb said there are some examples similar projects to the one purposed by Ellis County. Last year, then-Gov. Jeff Colyer helped spearhead an $18 million project on Kansas Highway 99 from Interstate 70 to Wamego.
The improvements were seen as a way to help future development in that area and also benefit the Caterpillar plant in Wamego. Cobb said the project will make it easier for Caterpillar to get their products to market.
Commissioner Dean Haselhorst also said that Hess Services is in need of employees. but Cobb said that is an issue statewide, noting part of the problem is an “education infrastructure issue.”
“That’s not an uncommon issue all over the country and it’s not an uncommon issue all over for all over Kansas,” Cobb said. “They’re challenged in finding a productive workforce, from all levels.”
County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes told the commission Monday there is no single funding source for the project and a county bond will probably be needed.
After talking with the county’s bond counsel, he suggested the county work with a financial adviser.
“To actually develop a financial plan for the funding and there would be several possibilities,” Smith-Hanes said. “(It) would not all have to be in the form of a bond.”
The commission gave Smith-Hanes the go-ahead to take the needed to steps to hire a financial adviser.