HDC was founded in 1968 by a group of local investors whose primary goal and achievement was to create the Hillsboro Industrial Park. Today the park serves as the operational home for 10 companies that employ between 200 and 300 people.
“We saw what those visionaries did with that industrial park,” said Darrell Driggers, who serves on the HDC and HVI boards.
“We would see that maybe in 30 years down the road that we could be looked at, as board members, of maybe having that same vision when we formed HVI.”
The HVI board consists of six members currently: Mike Kleiber, president, Mike Padgett, vice president, Carl Long, secretary, Brad Bartel, treasurer, and members Phil Wyssenbach and Driggers.
Five of those board members also serve on the HDC board.
A resource for businesses
The HVI vision is not so much to provide a physical place for businesses to locate, but to offer the intangible nutrients—such as business and marketing knowledge—that help turn a good idea into a successful company.
“Not that we would have the expertise within our local circles,” Driggers said. “But we would be able to source, either through the Innovation Center at K-State or in the public, the right mix of consultants.”
Added Seibel: “We’re basically a broker of resources.”
The Kansas Ag Innovation Center at Kansas State University has been a significant influence in the development of HVI.
It’s director, Vincent Amanor-Boadu, encouraged HDC to expand its initial vision beyond constructing a building as a way to develop new businesses in the Hillsboro area.
“He basically said, ‘How do you build with brick and mortar when you don’t know who’s coming and what their needs may be?’” Driggers said.
Added Seibel: “He’s saying that an innovation center could include a facility, but it will most likely include finance and marketing assistance. You need to think of it as an innovation center versus just as an incubator building.”
HDC first introduced its initiative in November, calling it the Hillsboro Business Incubator Center, and identified 1-year-old Kintec Inc., a developer and manufacturer of an innovative braking system for trailer hitches, as its first client.
Kintec owner Tom Kaufman has since melded his business with Hillsboro Industries, a local trailer manufacturer.
But Seibel said he is aware of other fledgling enterprises that could benefit from HVI’s services.
“As a matter of fact, we have several business opportunities in our hopper, if you will, to follow up on,” Seibel said. “But again, there’s no easy fix to any of this.”
Not ‘elephant hunting’
While looking to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit already present in Marion County, HVI also will seek to help established businesses and industries interested in relocating to this area.
“The strategy for growth in the past for smaller communities often included what is known as ‘elephant hunting’—seeking a large industry to come in as a way of solving their economic problems,” Seibel said.
“If (a large company) wants to come in, and we hear about it, we’re on them like fleas on a dog’s back,” he said. “That’s one strategy, but we’re going to widen our strategy.”
Added Driggers: “The success of businesses in Hillsboro has been rooted in start-up companies right here. We’ve just not succeeded well with large businesses. But if they came, we would certainly try to bring that together. We’re just not actively recruiting them.”
HVI is supported financially by HDC, the city of Hillsboro through its 1-mill tax levy, and with contributions from local business.
As a non-profit entity, HVI can also pursue financial assistance through state and federal programs.
“We have adequate funding for our operational need,” Driggers said. “There certainly will be opportunities for us to go out and solicit for (private) investment opportunities.”
A good match
Seibel said he accepted the new position as executive director of HDC/HVI after 12 years in fund-raising and public relations at Tabor College for several reasons, not the least of which was his own experiences as a private businessman in Hillsboro.
“Being active during the 1970s in real estate and an auction company gave me a great appreciation for this Marion County area,” he said.
“While at Tabor College, the administration’s desire was to have college personnel involved in the community. That put me on the HDC board for the past four years, which has revived my interest.
“I was fortunate to be on the ground level of Dr. Vincent (Amanor-Boadu) coming in, never knowing that I might be the one (to lead the new initiative).”
Driggers said once Seibel expressed interest in the position, the board quickly agreed he was the perfect candidate.
“Our board unanimously said, ‘Boy, why do a national search when we have this qualified person on board already?’” Driggers said. “We just felt it was the perfect fit for HVI’s executive need.”
Seibel said his initial task is to build a network of relationships that could lead to future opportunities for HVI. He has already been appointed to the Marion County Economic Development Council and is developing connections with other regional entities as well as existing area businesses.
“At this point in time, there’s a learning curve just to make contact with the right people,” Seibel said.
“When you have those relationships, there’s an outgrowth that causes you to follow up on leads. Everyone has something to offer you. That’s what I’m really plowing into right now.”
Seibel and HVI board members have met several times with Teresa Huffman, who is in her first year as economic-development director for Marion County.
“We really are on the same page,” Driggers said. “It’s much more than Hillsboro versus Marion.
“It’s what we can do to improve economic growth in all parts of Marion County.”