By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Larned Chamber of Commerce director Courtland Holman said he has mixed feelings leaving the city after nearly three years on the job.
“As Chamber director, you are a cog in the wheel to help everybody achieve a better life,” Holman said. “The Chamber director is the focal point under the direction of the Chamber board. We’ve accomplished a lot of goals. We’ve grown events and added businesses here.”
Holman, who also works as Pawnee County’s Economic Development director, is leaving for a similar economic development position in Dayton, Texas, 37 miles from Houston. He worked in Pittsburg, Calif., Brentwood, Calif. and La Palma, Calif. before moving to Larned.
Holman will be honored during a coffee at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Chamber.
“We made a lot of friends in the community that we will miss,” Holman said. “My enjoyment comes from a job well done. My goal has been to get the community recognized. You get exposure for your business during our community events. Luckily, I believe I have met every goal I set for myself.”
Holman’s check list of accomplishments include improving the overall quality of life in the community, improving attendance at Santa Fe Trail Days and other special local events, starting business training classes and launching new startup businesses.
Holman said he achieved his goal of expanding the focus at the Santa Fe Trail Days and the Antique and Collectibles Show from local to regional. The city council’s closing of downtown streets has enhanced Santa Fe Trail Days scheduled from June 7 to 9 this year.
“What we’re doing today has changed from my predecessor’s time when they focused on things locally,” Holman said. “It takes commitment and time to get the word out. A lot of people from outside town are seeing what the community has to offer. It takes the whole Chamber board to pull off an event like Santa Fe Trail Days. Santa Fe Trail Days is on track to be a viable regional event.”
Holman’s daughter graduated from Larned High and he believes the Larned school district is a valuable resource.
“We like the community a lot,” he said. “The school district is run like a private school with its quality and ability.”
During Holman’s tenure, several businesses have been started in the downtown sector, Heartland Irrigation purchased the National Guard Armory and Overland Property Group will develop median-income housing on 39 acres at Eighth and Morris.
It will up to $3 million to develop 20 units of three-bedroom duplexes for the rental properties. An estimated $900,000 of private investment will be required to make it a reality.
Overland Property Group’s projects include Flor de Sol, Liberal; Stonepost Apartments, Hays; The Reserves at Cimarron Valley, Dodge City; The Reserves at Prairie Ridge, Garden City; The Heritage at Hawthorne Village, Salina; The Reserves at Prairie Glen, Salina; and Bee Creek, Branson, Mo.
“When that wage-appropriate housing fills up as fast as I expect, it will drive the second phase soon thereafter,” he said. “It’s a win/win situation. There are still jobs being unfilled because of the lack of local housing. Larned has lost quality employees because of the commuting.”
The Chamber office is a hub of information for tourists and newcomers to town, who are able to gather information on available housing and other amenities the city and county offer. Working both Chamber and economic development issues is an advantage.
The new Pawnee Valley Community Hospital is the most positive economic development enhancement, according to Holman. Access to healthcare nearby will keep people living in Pawnee County.
Holman said Neighborhood Revitalization will continue to be a marketable option for Pawnee County cities.
Holman said the local Larned Pride committee has been progressive with Camp Pawnee and the Splash Pad at Doerr-Vernon Park. The Larned/Pawnee County Airport is a welcome improvement.
The housing project will have to be completed by the end of the year. An application to become an E-community is on the table to provide local funding through tax credits targeted for business startups and expansion. Training is provided to develop a business plan for business owners.
“There is a need to accomplish more. It’s an unfinished business,” Holman said. “E-Community is locally controlled dollars that will help local startup businesses. The Chamber director’s job is something that can be built on. Larned still needs to attract new businesses and more housing to the community.”
Dayton, 7,242, is the meeting point of two rail lines — a north/south Union Pacific line that comes out of Baytown and a east/west Union Pacific Lafayette Subdivision line that follows U.S. 90.
“Dayton, Texas made an offer that I really could not refuse,” Holman said. “The cost of living is the same and it’s a lot more money, health benefits and retirement benefits.”