Children bring Huffman to new eco-devo job

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
A primary resource of Marion County helped bring the county’s new economic development secretary here.

Teresa Huffman said it was children that convinced her-especially those her grown son, David Hoffman, saw as he drove through Marion looking for a potential new home.

Huffman said David told Marion City Economic Director Jami Williams saw happy children everywhere-in the park and up and down the sidewalks.

David and his wife, Danica, have two boys, Christopher, 3, and Aidan, 2. They have a third child on the way. They decided they were “delighted” with the housing they found in Marion, and it was just the place for their children to grow up with friends and activities.

David is a graphic artist in Hesston.

Teresa Huffman first applied to come to Marion County a year ago when the Board of Commissioners began searching for an economic development director.

Huffman said she has the qualifications for the position-whatever they end up calling it. The important thing, she said, is that the county and its volunteer Economic Development Council took the time to define how they wanted to begin.

“I am thrilled to be here,” Huffman said.

Since starting the job Nov. 1, she said she still feels awkward in her own office space-a new room set aside for her in what was road and bridge space. But the people have been warm and welcoming.

Marion County already feels like home and a special place for her.

With her background of banking and development, Huffman’s previous position was at Citizens State Bank in Moundridge.

County commissioners have been acknowledging that they found someone as could as they could have hoped for to fill the new position.

Huffman said people shouldn’t be confused by the difference in her last name and the last name of Hoffman for her sons and their families. She said she retained her maiden name of Huffman when she married a Hoffman.

Family is important to her. Her son, Christopher, is a fireman in Oklahoma. He and wife Kari, a nurse, have a son, Cameron, 10 months.

Son Quentin is a missionary in Asia. Son Justin and wife Kristen are teachers in Gardner with three children: Hannah, 9, Ryan, 8, and Raleigh, 6.

Huffman said David and his family have found a rental right across the alley from them, and she plans some time “to be a grandma, make some cookies of course.”

Huffman said life frequently prepares you for what you didn’t necessarily expect to do-and that seems to be true in this case. She once worked in Independence in a bank with an officer she sees as a talented mentor in her life, Jim Kelly.

She said Kelly was instrumental in helping the people of Independence recognize the need and do the tasks necessary to have Cessna, aircraft manufacturer, move to town just as the company the community had depended on, ARCO, was moving out.

Her own role expanded to where she became director of the Independence Housing Authority. She worked on getting grants with little experience in grant writing, learning to go to neighboring communities that had been successful for advice.

She said she “developed a special heart” for helping the elderly. She ended up getting her community the biggest single grant ever received in Kansas, more than $1 million.

Huffman also became the city’s building inspector.

“In a small town you wear a lot of hats,” she said.

From Independence, Huffman went to the Pittsburg State University Business and Technology Center, where again she did inspections, wrote grants, and worked on developments for rural communities, including sewer and water development.

She also worked on the Montgomery County Action Council, where many cities learned to recognize and overcome old rivalries for the good of all of them.

She said Marion County also is diverse with cities that vary in need and a strong agricultural base.

In her first days on the job, she said she will build upon what the Marion County Economic Development Council has already done.

“They’ve needed legs-somebody to go out there and build on all the work they already have done,” Huffman said. “They are all volunteers who have their own jobs.

“I will need to survey all of the towns in the county to find out what their needs and resources are.”

Huffman said she will be looking at vacant buildings to match with businesses looking for buildings in which to relocate.

She said such actions as the City of Marion building a “spec” building in its industrial park could be beneficial.

She will be doing what some members of MCEDC have called “building a county data base.”

Huffman said county residents shouldn’t spend a lot of time looking for a “big fix” from a company moving in from the outside.

The best development, she said, comes from within-from the businesses and the ideas available from the people already here.

She cited a Free Press story from two weeks ago on Russell Groves’ interest in developing a bio-diesel business in Hillsboro as one of “the more exciting things I have heard of.”

Although retail business is important, Huffman said she subscribes to the theory that if basic industry and business is built, retail will follow of its own accord.

Huffman said grants available through the State of Kansas to help with housing and development.

She said the state is especially interested in providing grants that create more employment. This can be done through upgrading or helping a company expand so it can hire more people, or it can be done through grants that educate workers to fulfill employer needs.

Huffman said she stays aware of the grants other communities are getting, and won’t hesitate to ask the help of a city or county that has been successful for suggestions that could help Marion County accomplish the same thing.

“You don’t reinvent the wheel,” she said.

Huffman said she also will look to her Montgomery County experience as a model to pull the diverse interests here together to recognize the common good.

“We want all of the players together at the table,” she said.

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