The announcement came out of the blue Tuesday, like a bolt of lightning from a Kansas storm cloud. The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s lease of the historic Mills Building in Topeka was set expire in September 2013 and the agency was shopping around for a new site for its headquarters.
Now Great Bend joins Topeka, Manhattan, Garden City and/or Dodge City on a short list for new sites.
This sent officials in these communities scrambling as they try to put their best foot forward to woo KDA. “This is a great opportunity,” said Jan Peters, president and chief executive officer of the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce.
The Ag Department has been in the Mills Building for about three decades and now it was looking elsewhere. State office space is managed by the Department of Administration’s Office of Facilities and Property Management, and it is this department that came out Tuesday and said it was soliciting bids.
It is indeed a great opportunity for Great Bend. The bid solicitations being published are seeking a facility to accommodate 20 to 180 workers.
These are not fast food, pig farm or meat processing plant jobs. These are high-paying, professional jobs.
This is a big deal, if it is legit.
One has to wonder if the KDA is genuinely seeking a new home. Has the department already settled on Manhattan, site of Kansas State University with its renowned ag programs?
Or is it using this as a ploy to force a better rental deal on property in the state capital? After all, in addition to state government, Topeka is home to offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kansas Grain and Soybean Association, Kansas Feed and Seed, Kansas Soybean Association, Kansas Co-op Association and Kansas Livestock Association.
But, Great Bend City Administrator Howard Partington made a good point when he said our community would make an ideal match. “This is where agriculture is king. We’re right in the middle of it. This is ag country.”
Regardless of Ag Secretary Dale Rodman’s motives, Peters and Partington have the right idea. We must aggressively court the KDA and pull out all the stops.
In addition, we can contact our state lawmakers and ask them to lobby on our behalf. Anyone who has a facility that would meet KDA’s needs must step forward.
There’s not much time. The deadline for bids is July 15.
The state doesn’t have much of a footprint in Great Bend, especially considering its central location. This is a chance to increase that with an office that would blend seemlessly into our rural landscape. Let’s try to put this in the bin.