Numbers can tell some interesting stories. A recent study by the Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research analyzed all 105 counties in Kansas to identify the retail sales gaps, comparing the sales of each county to the average of its 10 "peer" counties (those five counties each with higher and lower populations).
For Harvey County, the study showed a gap in retail, with a sales ratio of 78.9 percent compared to its peer counties. The median peer sales ratio for counties with populations between 5,000 and 50,000 was 90 percent. However, CEDBR Director noted that number alone does not tell the full story.
"Just because it's a smaller number doesn't mean it's actually under-served," Hill said. "The market could be very happy with the amount of retail it has locally."
While County Administrator John Waltner noted the county has expected such a gap for some time, given its proximity to Wichita and Sedgwick County, he also views the study through an optimistic lens.
"I think what it does is alert us to some opportunities, I really think that's what comes out of studies like this, if we can use the information to guide us in decision-making," Waltner said.
At face value, Harvey County's sales ratio stands out compared to its peers from Cowley, Crawford, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Geary, Lyon, Miami, Montgomery and Saline counties. Looking a little closer, though, there is a clear pattern that emerges.
Of those 10 counties, six (Ellis, Finney, Ford, Lyon, Montgomery and Saline) have sales ratios higher than 85 percent. All six are also the largest counties compared to the others with which they share a border. The other four counties have sales ratios below 80 percent and three of the four (Cowley, Geary and Harvey) border a larger metropolitan area or county; Manhattan/Riley for Geary and Wichita/Sedgwick for Cowley and Harvey.
Sales ratios in the study aren't inherently good or bad, as Hill stated, but what are emphasized are the opportunities that could be afforded for both community developers and small business owners.
For the community developers, it highlights how they can provide for their communities and grow the economy, while it also presents small business owners with new opportunities and shows them what markets exist and where.
Pam Stevens, Executive Director of the Newton Chamber of Commerce, can see the benefits of that as well, taking into consideration the community's proximity to Wichita.
"Those mom and pop stores are what we're attracting," Stevens said. "We're just not big enough to bring some of the name brands in because of our population."
Certain markets are under-served locally, according to Stevens, like men's clothing, shoes and sporting goods. There needs to be an effort to target some of those, which she said the Chamber is doing by organizing a retail task force to look at the areas that are missing and try to attract businesses.
Given that Wichita is so close, that may be working against Newton in terms of attracting more sales, but Newton Assistant City Manger Tim Johnson noted amenities, services provided (which were looked at in another CEDBR study) and other factors can also influence potential business partners.
"Businesses don't just go to where the people are, they go to where the action is, and that action isn't just economic," Johnson said. "The more compelling our communities are as places to live, the more interested businesses will be in looking here and that isn't just specific or limited to retail and service, but also to commercial and industrial investment."
As construction continues on the new YMCA in Newton, Johnson is hopeful that is a project that may drive up interest into more commercial development.
Having the YMCA as a destination could also drive up business in general, something Waltner suggested as well in terms of having unique establishments that attract visitors to make trips (and spend money) in the Harvey County community.
Seeing the recent study, it highlights some of the obstacles facing Harvey County and some remaining needs in the community, but Stevens said she believes the community is in a good position and that the study could be used as a tool to continue bolstering local business.
"I feel we are supplying the needs. There are a few that aren't being met, but for the majority they are being met," Stevens said. "I was encouraged, but yet have something to work on going forward knowing there are some needs that aren't being met. You don't want to get too comfortable. You wan't to keep striving to continue to keep people shopping here local so our tax dollars stay local."
To see a summary of the study, visit www.cedbr.org.