Tulips sprouted in the yards on a sunny April day in Halstead, as several school buses were parked near a side street, ready to take kids to school the next day. A variety of grain elevators reached out to the blue sky, as wispy clouds floated above the town of Halstead residents refer to as the ?Biggest Little City in Kansas.?
Blooming trees created a soft landscape against the backdrop of historic buildings that line Main Street.
Halstead leaders are attempting to get more people to move to their town, either by renting, building or buying, to get jobs and to enroll their children in school there through an incentive program, called Discover Halstead, which launched March 1 and will last until sunset Dec. 31.
?It?s hard for me to not get excited about it because it?s such a neat program,? said J.R. Hatfield, city administrator.
The incentive program for this town with a population of about 2,095 involves providing Chamber Bucks in a three-tiered program. At the first level, a person can get $50 in Chamber Bucks if they enroll a new student in the school district, become a new resident or get a new job in town. To qualify for $400 in Chamber Bucks, a person needs to meet two of the three previously mentioned qualifications. To get $1,500 in Chamber Bucks, a person needs to meet all three requirements. In addition, if someone builds a home and meets all three requirements, he or she can get $2,500.
?The important part of the program is while larger incentives are available to those who buy or build a home, there are incentives for everyone,? Hatfield said. ?You can receive incentives even if you move here and rent a house and don?t work here or have children in school.?
Chamber Bucks can be used for just about anything in Halstead ? from paying for utilities, to using the pool, to buying groceries, gas, carpet and even a car. Chamber Bucks can be spent at any business that?s a member of the Chamber.
?Halstead is a great little community to live and raise a family,? Hatfield said. ?We have an amazing school system that is small enough to make sure your children get the attention they need and, being a smaller school, gives a child a better opportunity to be involved. Halstead is a safe place to live with many of the other amenities that just make Halstead home. Halstead also offers a location that makes it easy to go to Wichita, Newton, Hutch?in?son and many larger places in just a few minutes, but you can come home to your little city.?
The city of Halstead, the Halstead Chamber and Halstead USD 440 decided to collaborate on the project after RedGuard purchased the old Skyline building. This employer eventually will employ 60.
?Probably the emphasis is all three of those entities working together,? said Bill Charlsen, Chamber president.
RedGuard builds explosion-proof business offices, and the company has been in business in Wichita since 2006. It had been called A Box for You, but changed the name after expanding to Halstead. RedGuard has 30 employees and should have 60 by the end of the year. RedGuard makes steel boxes and puts offices inside them. These offices are for any areas that are hazardous or at risk of explosions. The offices can be bolted together and made several stories high.
?RedGuard was the one that when the tax abate?ment was approved by the Halstead City Council got me to thinking that we need to do something to encourage those new employees to move to Halstead,? Hatfield said. ?But we also have many other employers that should be able to use this program to not only recruit but to encourage their employees to move to Halstead. Every Chamber member who hires new employees (is) eligible for the incentives.?
Discover Halstead representatives have talked to reps from other towns, and those people haven?t seen a program like this one, Hatfield said. Most incentive programs primarily are focused on people building homes. For example, Maize gives water credits to people who construct homes.
?But it?s an incentive program that can be tapped into by a large group of people? ? and not just those building residences, said Cory L. Harrington, school board president.
?We don?t want to limit this incentive to that one group,? Hatfield said.
Halstead representatives want to have other people see how great Halstead really is.
Planning for Discover Halstead started in December, and RedGuard was the ?boot that got us started,? Hatfield said. The group wanted other employers to have their employees take advantage of the incentives.
?We wanted to have a program to have them attract an employee, as well,? Harrington said. This could give an employee an incentive to work there.
?So employers are using this as a hiring tool to get employees here,? Hatfield said.
Discover Halstead members have great hopes for doing well.
?I?m hoping we can show what a success it is, and we can continue it,? Hatfield said.
?The employers that embrace it will really see the benefits from it,? Harrington said.
The money to fund the program comes from the three entities. As of April 16, the fund totaled $30,000. One advantage of the program is it helps the rest of Halstead, as the money will go back to local businesses and not somewhere else.
The program is having a positive effect on the town in another way. Since its inception, the Chamber had increased its membership by two businesses, as of April 16.
?We?ve had a great start,? Harrington said. ?The last 45 days, we?ve had a great start.?
?Just in the attitude,? Charlsen added. ?They?re excited about it.?
As part of the program, applicants will have a 90-day waiting period. As of April 16, Discover Halstead had received one application. Hatfield said he signed a building permit for people who have decided to build a new home in Halstead, and another couple is negotiating on a property to build a house.
RedGuard found out about the property from Lonnie Martin of Martin Machine and Welding in Halstead. Martin welded boxes for A Box for You and talked to them about the old Skyline building, as it had been empty for about five years. The company approached Mickey Fornaro-Dean, executive director of the Harvey County Economic Development Council. Fornaro-Dean helped them with the procedures to get city tax abatements. The deal was made, and they closed in February.
Fornaro-Dean and Tucky Allen, business services director with Kansas WorkforceONE, have attended Discover Halstead meetings, and have assisted with information and ideas to put the plan and incentive package together, Hatfield said. They also were instrumental in putting together the job fair, which was in May in Halstead.
The people who have volunteered their time with Discover Halstead include Gene Haydock with the Chamber of Commerce and Roger Lowery with the city of Halstead, as well as Harrington on the Oversight Committee; Charlsen and Beth Ann Kingsley with the Chamber of Commerce; Hatfield, Stacy McDowell and Dennis Travis with the city of Halstead; Fornaro-Dean and Allen with the Harvey County Economic Development Council; and Karen Jacobs with the Harvey County Independent.
Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent