Project data suggest positive economic health for city

A research project conducted by two Tabor College interns, under the guidance of Hills?boro?s economic development director, has contributed data-based insights into the city?s overall economic health.

Most of the news is positive, according to Clint Seibel, who directed the project and led the presentation of the results before the Hillsboro City Council last week.

Josh Elliott, a junior from Hillsboro, and Rob Moore, a sophomore from Hesston, worked alongside Seibel for about six weeks to identify and then research five measurable indicators of a city?s economic health.

Seibel likened this project to a person who feels healthy, but goes in for a physical to measure cholesterol levels and other vital signs.

To gather evidence about Hillsboro?s economic health, the trio identified five key indicators: capital investments, real estate appraisal values, sales tax revenue, population and school enrollment.

The team researched public records to document each indicator for the past five years?except for population, which came from six census reports, which are produced once every 10 years.

Of the five indicators, only school enrollment indicated ill health, according to Seibel?and even that category had good news to go with the bad news.

The good news was that Tabor College enrollment on the Hillsboro campus showed a 14 percent increase from 2006 to 2010, but public-school enrollment declined by 19 percent over the same period.

?We know we need to bring in more young families with child?ren to Hillsboro,? Seibel said.

Following is a recap of the team?s findings for each indicator.

? Capital investments. Using building permits as its information source, the team discovered that just over $31 million dollars was invested in the community from 2006 to 2011.

The team subdivided this category into seven kinds of investments: municipal, residential, commercial, industrial, health care, educational and religious.

Seibel noted that investment in each category was significant across the board, ranging from a low of $731,000 in municipal investments to nearly $12.7 million in educational projects.

The other common pattern was that the amount of money invested ranged widely from year to year, usually based on a singular large project undertaken in a particular category in a given year.

For instance, additions to public school buildings in 2006 and 2007, plus the construction of a stadium in 2009, accounted for most of the $12.7 million invested in education over five years.

Unplanned events also accounted for spending spikes, including a church fire that led to a $6 million building project in 2006, and a hail storm that caused residential investment to peak at $1.854 million in 2009, thanks to numerous roof repair and replacement projects.

Seibel said the amount of capital investments in Hillsboro over the five years suggested at least two things about the city?s economic health: (1) lenders have confidence in Hillsboro?s economy, and (2) business owners and residents have confidence that they will be able to pay off these investments.

? REAL-ESTATE APPRAISALS. In contrast to the up-and-down nature of capital investments, appraisal values increased slowly but steadily each of the five years.

The total appraised value for Hillsboro from 2006 to 2010 increased by $11.9 million to $100.7 million, which is an average annual increase of nearly 2.7 percent.

The study also found that appraisal values increased by 10.2 percent over five years for residential properties and 2.9 percent for commercial properties.

Seibel said a community?s appraisal values increase because of two factors: inflation, and the addition of new or improved structures.

? SALES TAX REVENUE. Local sales-tax revenue increased from $339,886 in 2005 to $584,615 in 2010. A key contributor in the jump was a half-cent sales tax increase in 2006 for the construction of the aquatic center, which jumped sales-tax revenue in 2006 to $503,690.

Seibel said he was encouraged to see local sales-tax revenue increase each year since the rate hike took effect.

?That?s not the case for a lot of communities,? he said.

Sales tax comes to the city on a steady basis, ranging from 7 to 9 percent each month. Seibel said the lack of a revenue spike in November and December sales tax indicated ?people aren?t buying their Christ?mas presents at home.?

? POPULATION. The research team used data from the past six census reports to study Hills?boro?s population trend. Because the census occurs once every 10 years, the numbers reflect a 50-year period, from 1960 to 2010.

In 1960, Hillsboro?s population stood at 2,441. After a jump to 2,730 in 1970, IT essentially plateaued until 2000, when it rose to 2,854 and then to a high of 2,993 in the 2010 census.

Seibel said that while the change in population hasn?t been dramatic over 50 years, it has been upward?another positive achievement for a rural community.

The population study did reveal the most surprising finding of the project, at least for the two Tabor students involved.

Based on a recent retail-market study completed by the Bux?ton Company, the largest age group within a 15-mile radius of Hillsboro is the 20-44 years category (1,944) while the smallest group is the 60-85+ group (1,259).

Moore said his casual observation of Hillsboro as a Tabor College student was that it was predominantly a retirement community.

Mayor Delores Dalke said she believes most residents share that assumption, and was pleased to see confirmation of a different reality.

?Most of us don?t realize what we have,? Dalke said.

Making the grade

At the end of the report, Seibel asked people in the room to give Hillsboro?s economic health a grade, based on a scale of 1 to 10. Ratings varied from a 7 to a 10.

Seibel himself gave the city a rating of 6.5, noting that despite the mostly positive economic evidence the team discovered, the city has a lot of work ahead to keep the trends positive.

Seibel said he didn?t have data to compare Hillsboro with other small towns in central Kansas, but felt Hillsboro?s numbers offered reason for a hopeful future.

City attorney Dan Baldwin credited a positive and cooperative attitude as a key contributor to Hillsboro?s economic health.

?You can find hard-working people anywhere,? he said. ?How you treat people makes all the difference.?

Seibel said the study will serve as a ?base line? upon which to add data for each year.

?It gives you something to see where you?ve been and where you?re shooting for,? he said.

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