A strong case for small-town opportunity
Business View Magazine interviews representatives from Edgerton, KS, as part of our focus on best practices of American towns and cities.
To understand the social history and enduring value system of small-town America, you only need to grasp the heart and soul of residents like those of Edgerton, KS, who know what it is to create and keep rural communities alive. Values don’t come from roads, industrial parks, or subdivisions. Rather, they come from bonds that are made when citizens feel like neighbors, and businesses feel like community partners.
“I was elected to my position in 2009,” says Mayor Don Roberts. “I’ve seen Edgerton’s transformation from a rural, bedroom town to a thriving employment center and sustainable community that continues to add benefit to our citizens. That’s probably the highest priority we have—to always give back to the people that pay our taxes and are our neighbors.”
Edgerton has rich historical roots as a small railway town and as the “Southwestern Cornerstone” of Johnson County. It was founded in 1870 when the Kansas Southern Railway was extended to that point, and named after the chief constructing engineer, Benjamin Edgerton, responsible for the rail expansion. Today, the still-small, still-rural community of 1,700 people represents the largest industrial development site in the whole state of Kansas.
“We’ve created about 4,500 jobs, seen about $1.1 billion worth of vertical construction, built a new wastewater treatment plant, and improved 12 miles of roadways,” shares Roberts. “Those ventures have grown and continue to grow to where we just need more room to connect with each other. We’re working on a community green space area, right now—a place for everybody to gather. We’ve gathered the public input pieces and we’ll formulate a plan to start that project soon.”
The city is already seizing the chance to give back to its community by investing in an integrated, beautifying system of public parks and trails that meets the needs of Edgerton’s residents and encourages visitors to be active in the outdoors year-round. “We’re continuing to improve our city parks, trails and connectivity,” assures Beth Linn, City Administrator. “This year, we’ll be renovating Glendale Acres, which is one of our larger community parks. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to invite our residents and neighboring communities to come out and help us plan the future amenities. We’ve seen it happen before—it’s a great way to bring families together. Edgerton is all about hanging out with and watching out for its neighbors, so we continue to make room for that.”
And it’s absolutely the best place to do business. “From a business aspect, Edgerton has really built its reputation on operational efficiency and creative problem-solving,” says James Oltman, President of ElevateEdgerton!—a partnership formed between the City of Edgerton and private business to attract new investments of commercial and residential development in the community. “It’s pretty standard that a company, from the time they submit their initial application, can break ground in 120 days or less,” he adds. “You don’t really see that elsewhere. The other piece is that we don’t get boxed in by conventional thinking. That whole mindset of ‘that’s the way it’s normally done’ isn’t necessarily the mindset here in Edgerton. We’ve been able to do a lot of the things that we’ve accomplished here by thinking outside the box and getting creative on solutions. A tiny farming community needed to do that to be able to build the 13-million-square-foot business park that’s out here.”
What Oltman is referring to is Logistics Park Kansas City (LPKC), a 1,700-acre, master-planned distribution and warehouse development situated just southwest of downtown Kansas City. Served by global intermodal transportation leader, BNSF Railway, LPKC is a world-class inland port with direct connection to the global supply chain.
“Lots of communities say they’re open for business, or that they’re development-friendly,” says Linn. “What’s different about Edgerton is that there’s a commitment to honesty with the way we do business. There’s a commitment to streamlining the process, and to building a partnership that’s mutually beneficial for the business and for the City. Take LPKC—the first train came through BNSF on October 1st, 2013. Today, we’re at almost 20 million square feet of industrial building capacity. The original projections were seven million square feet in 15-20 years, so we’ve nearly doubled that amount in half the time. That shows you that it’s not just about the development that’s coming, or that might potentially come. The development is here and continues to do well each and every year, adding millions of square feet in industrial warehouse space, thousands of jobs for our community and the community abroad, and raising the appraised value for Edgerton, Johnson County, and the state of Kansas. We’re an excellent case study to illustrate that when you invest in public infrastructure, that gets returned in the form of private industry investments.”
Making the city more livable through judicious investment in public infrastructure has been in Edgerton’s best economic interest thus far, but housing remains an important barrier to progress towards sustainable building. “It’s something we’ve been working diligently on,” affirms Roberts. “We want more housing. We’ve created quite a few jobs and now we’re interested in finding the right developers to partner with our community and help us grow.”
In addition to residential building, construction, which is strongly influenced by the growth and movement of Edgerton’s population—particularly work commutes—is, likewise, on the horizon. “We’re currently working on off-grid crossing for the railroad track, including easements, for our residential community’s public safety,” says Roberts. “That project will allow access to our residential community from I-35, without having to stop for anything associated with the railway. Our citizens will have uninterrupted service back to their jobs or their homes. It will also give ambulance, fire, and police access from I-35, which is the major thoroughfare in our area.”
Other recent, and shortly expected, infrastructure projects include large-scale roadway reconstruction and a brand-new TA Truck Stop. “We just finished up the largest street reconstruction project that this town has ever seen,” says Roberts. “About 2.6 lane miles of roadways were cleared back down to base. We redid the entire road, including the storm sewers, curbs, gutters—the whole nine yards, which was a huge undertaking. A big chunk of our population was affected by that project, but now enjoys better streets and drainage than it had before.”
“We also have a TA Truck Stop that’s been through planning commission,” Roberts continues. “We’re just waiting for them to finish all the legal work on their side so that they can do the groundbreaking. I expect construction to start on that project—which includes the truck stop itself, some interior services with fast-service, restaurant-type items, a truck maintenance facility and a truck wash—in either spring or summer. We’d anticipate completion of that around wintertime of this year.”
With all the necessary ingredients to grow as a total community already in place, ElevateEdgerton! is eager to attract more business befitting of the city’s Midwestern values. The enterprise encourages new development and the utilization of the offered incentives to create economic opportunity and enhance the quality of life for those who live, work, and visit there.
“We have a laundry list of major employers—Hostess Brands, Kubota Tractor Corp., Amazon, Jet.com,” says Roberts. “With NorthPoint Development, we have pre-negotiated incentive packages that have been around since we started down the route of our industrial park. Edgerton is a small town and we want to be good partners to companies who choose to partner with us.”
Back in 2015, NorthPoint announced the construction of Inland Port XIV at LPKC, what will be the largest speculative building in Kansas City history, totaling 822,104 square feet. It will also be the first to feature 36-foot clear height. “That project should be completed late April, early May,” confirms Oltman.
“We’re small-town folk with big-town flair for industry,” says Roberts. “We want to know our neighbors, and we want to get out and see them. Walkability is a big thing in our community. Outdoor activities are a big thing. We have a very bright future, with a growing local economy that’s generating new revenue for the city and enriching residents’ lives without taxing them for it.”
“We’re on a good path,” insists Roberts.
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Edgerton, Kansas
WHAT: A city of 1,700
WHERE: Johnson County, Kansas