When the decision was made to begin publishing the Kiowa County Independent, the staff had long conversations about our responsibilities to the community, and the obvious ones stood out. To inform, educate and entertain our readers; to support the business community through advertising and promotion; to contribute to the community’s sense of identity. Good stuff, all of it.
We also felt (and still feel) it was the job of a newspaper to start a dialogue that got people thinking and talking and asking questions of themselves and each other about this place where we live.
What works and what doesn’t? Where are we strong, and where are we…not so strong? What’s been tried, what could be tried and what are we willing to do—individually and as a community— to grow and prosper these high plains we call home?
Our hope: that talking will be, as it’s supposed to be, just one step toward the ultimate goal of action. It’s not up to us to say what that action should be; whatever is done will be determined by the people of the community.
Our job is to just get the conversation started. So, let’s get to work.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE:
A COMMUNITY AT A CROSSROADS
A resident of Eads was at a meeting in Lamar recently when a community leader from another county made a comment she found surprising. He said he wished his town “had as many good things happening” as we do in Kiowa County. With a laugh, the woman said she almost looked around to see who he was talking to. Sensing this, the man continued. “You’re opening new businesses,” he said. “You’re having these big events. People are buying houses and flipping them. I wish we could make that happen in [my] county.”
The woman’s “What, here?” reaction isn’t uncommon. No doubt, many others would have had the same response. But there’s truth to what the man was saying.
In the past 18 months, 8 new businesses have started up, employing anywhere from 35 employees to being an owner-operated establishment. A long awaited fitness center is opening in several weeks, and it’s on Maine Street, too. Right. Maine Street.
Several houses have been put up for sale and, in a few of those cases, have been flipped, bringing a good profit to the investors.
Land has been donated for a day care center. Land was donated, and a helipad was put in to assist in patient transport. Grants are being pursued to build several multi-family dwellings. Grants were awarded for a CT scanner at KCHD which is now up and running. Other grants were awarded to the Town of Eads for a major water project. Some progress is being made on both the Murdock Building and the Crow-Luther Cultural Events Center. A conversation about keeping water permanently in the lakes has been restarted.
KCEDF landed the “Dream Big Eads!” event for Kiowa County, bringing some of the state’s top aerospace companies to Kiowa County to meet local students and get a feeling for what potential there might be for their industry to expand to rural locations.
Events are also coming up, all of which support other organizations and businesses. Proceeds from the Maine Street Bash will go to supporting the Crow Luther Cultural Events Center, including the Plains Theater. The Color Run will support Prairie Pines Assisted Living Center. The Demolition Derby supports the Fair Board. The All School Reunion is also happening this year, and local motels are already sold out because attendance is going to be high.
As the man said, “good things are happening in Kiowa County.”
But before we go patting ourselves on the back, there’s another side of the situation that is very different but equally true. These good things are not the result of a fully engaged community banding together for the good of all. The reality is actually quite the opposite.
Many of the community’s accomplishments are the result of the hard work of a small group of people, and it’s been the same small group of people doing it for years. In other volunteer based
organizations, people cycle in and out of volunteering as the circumstances of their lives allow. Not here.
Here, every month—sometimes every week or day--a core group of people donate countless hours to fulfilling “civic duties”. That may have worked for a long time. It’s not working anymore. These people are wearing out, and no one is stepping in to take their place.
The assumption is that somehow those events will continue on their own. Not so. These things don’t happen without volunteers.
So, what’s the cost of not volunteering?
Here’s one example.
The Maine Street Bash is being completely redesigned this year with free admission and hours extended from 10am to midnight. During the day, Maine Street will be full of vendors—33 scheduled, so far—with live music in Horseshoe Park. At night, the “bash” will be held as it has been for years; a band will be performing on stage while people dance in the streets. Sounds wonderful, and it could have been even bigger except for one problem: there weren’t enough volunteers to do all they wanted to do.
As people move, become unable to care for themselves or pass away, the number of people participating in Senior Citizens activities is decreasing to the point that, if new people don’t begin to take part in events, the group will eventually disappear.
How about one that’s a little more definitive.
In all likelihood, this will be the last year that the All School Reunion is held because no one new is volunteering to help in its organization. This reunion only happens in a place like Kiowa County, and, at this point, there’s the very strong likelihood that, after this year, it will never happen again.
Another one, and it’s a doozy.
There are currently two vacancies—two—on the town council. To date, no one has even expressed an interest in getting involved. How well can a town be governed when there isn’t even enough interest to have a full council?
And, honestly, how many people will readily complain that an event is not what it should be or a decision was made that they don’t support while failing to consider that their lack of involvement might be part of the cause?
The problem isn’t limited to civic organizations.
There is also a small group of people in Kiowa County who have taken significant financial risks in order to open a business. People typically make an investment in a business because of the financial reward it might bring. No right thinking person would begrudge them that.
But it must be noted that business owners aren’t the only ones who benefit. New and strong existing businesses are also crucial to a community. They contribute to the quality of life. They provide jobs. They collect sales tax which goes right back into providing the services people rely upon. They’re absolutely key in recruiting professionals—like doctors and dentists and teachers—to the area.
They attract tourists.
That’s a pretty harsh claim, but, unfortunately, it’s supported by data from the State of Colorado RMP Gap Report. According to the report, retail purchases, including food and beverages, made by people who reside in zip code 81036 totaled $19,138,983 in consumer expenditures.
Of that $19,138,983 in consumer expenditures…$13,666,782 was spent in another county. In other words, seven out of every ten dollars spent by Kiowa County residents were spent in other businesses located in other counties, benefiting residents other than those who make up our own community.
How difficult must it be for a local business to do well when only three out of every ten dollars is spent in the county? And with those kind of figures, how likely is it that more and more people will take a risk in opening more and more businesses?
So, what’s the cost of shopping elsewhere? People can do the math on that one on their own.
For a long time, people have been very concerned about the future of Kiowa County, and with good reason. Although some good things are, indeed, happening, we are still a long way from “solid” and, once we get there, getting solid and staying solid are two very different things.
The progress being made is due to the efforts of a number of individuals—private citizens—who are investing their time, energy and money into the community. But the community must respond in kind.
Whether it’s getting directly involved in local government or holding local officials accountable for doing something beyond maintaining status quo…or opening a business…or volunteering to keep certain organizations and functions going…or even something as simple as attending a community event or making it a practice to always shop local first, it is up to each of us to take responsibility for the future of the community.
We’re at a crossroads. Should we decide, as a community, to work for a destination of prosperity, it will take the whole community—the whole village—to get us there.