Reynolds now leading CloudCorp effort to stimulate economic growth
Job growth is one of the most important factors that Concordia and Cloud County must address in the years ahead, and CloudCorp is at the forefront of that effort. In a town and county where agriculture remains the lifeblood of existence, CloudCorp's operational mandate is designed to encourage economic growth through small business recruitment and development, business and industry expansion, and community development.
On January 2, 2019, Kim Reynolds became the new CloudCorp Executive Director. Reynolds replaced Ashely Hutchinson, who stepped down after six years at the helm of the organization.
Reynolds joined CloudCorp after nearly two decades in higher education. She is the former Vice President for Student Affairs and Advancement at Cloud County Community College, where she also served as an Admissions Counselor, the Director of Admissions, the Executive Director of the CCCC Foundation, and Interim Vice President of Student Services and Enrollment Management. She has a Master of Liberal Studies Degree in Organizational Leadership from Fort Hays State University, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Kansas State University.
"Being around this community for 20 years, I'd developed a great network with people," Reynolds said. "With this position, from a business-growth perspective, it's been very rewarding to know people in a different light and on a different level."
Reynolds is thoroughly enjoying the relationship-building that is part of her job as CloudCorp.
"I have been making my way around the communities in Cloud County attending city council meetings and meeting with business owners. People have been meeting with me to discuss funding options for various business ideas. There are a lot of good ideas out there and I hope we can make them become reality."
Before taking the job with CloudCorp, Reynolds had not worked specifically with economic development, so there is a learning curve in her new position. But she is an experienced businesswoman who developed a comprehensive knowledge of core business principles, including business strategy, sales/marketing techniques, and information management systems - all keyed by strong leadership skills.
Reynolds is a doer; she's full of energy and enthusiasm. Three months into the CloudCorp job, Reynolds has already met with Kansas Department of Commerce officials, the Kansas Economic Development Alliance in Topeka, the North Central Kansas Regional Planning Commission, and attended a Strategic Doing Workshop in Hays sponsored by the Dane G. Hanson Foundation. In early April she'll be in Dodge City for the Rural Opportunities Conference.
Concordia and all of Cloud County has much to offer potential new businesses and new citizens, including a lifestyle vastly different from the hustle-and-bustle of a big city; a safer place to raise a family; and more affordable housing options.
"One of the best draws we can offer is our location," Reynolds said. "We're situated on a highway that connects I-70 and I-80 providing quick access to major cities within the Midwest. Coupling that with rail access and land availability, Cloud County offers a lot for businesses and industry to capitalize on."
Reynolds also believes one of our community's biggest draws is the quality of the people who live here.
"Many citizens are passionate about this community and getting things done," she said. "There's a great culture of helping here."
There are serious issues affecting rural areas all across the United States, and north central Kansas is no exception. Rural decline - including the quality and quantity of an employable workforce - is one of the most critical problems Reynolds must address as she brings business to the area.
"Our limited workforce is a problem that hampers us," she said. "If we only have a set number of employable people, then bringing in a new business without also bringing in more employees creates its own problems. People leave their current jobs to go work for the new business, so we haven't really solved the issue. We have to find ways to bring new residents to the community."
New residents and their families would create a positive domino-effect on the town's economic infrastructure.
"New residents means we have more kids in our schools; we have more people using our health care system; we have more consumers utilizing our services and shopping in our stores."
One of the trends gaining strength in this modern era of cyber employment is the 'remote workforce'. People work from their homes and conduct business online, which means they don't commute to an office or a factory every day. Often times the company they directly work for is not even in the same state.
The remote workforce is just one component of new business that Reynolds is focusing on. Because of the lifestyle available here, Cloud County could be an attractive draw for a variety of different businesses. But lifestyle can't be the only draw; other aspects of the community must also be appealing.
Reynolds met with a consultant from a development company, and the first two questions he asked her were: 'What's your hospital like?'... and 'What are your schools like?'.
"Economic development thrives around quality health care and a quality school system," Reynolds said. "If you have those two things, the rest will follow."
A Blade-Empire article published on December 19, 2018, noted a specific aspect of the health care issue: the difference between perception and reality. The reality is that residents of Concordia and Cloud County have learned to navigate around the available medical services for their needs. Many travel to Salina and Beloit and Minneapolis - even Belleville - for specialized care. But this reality may be creating a negative perception of the community for new businesses and new families who are thinking of moving here.
When it comes to health care, Reynolds has a deeply personal perspective. Her youngest daughter Breckyn was born with a serious medical condition that requires ongoing treatment. So Reynolds is a passionate advocate for proper facilities, up-to-date technology, and the ability to bring specialists to the citizens of Cloud County.
"The Community Prioritization Project identified a new modern health facility as the top priority of the citizens for the county. Being in this position has allowed me to be involved in the discussions of a new facility. It is exciting to watch the process and see concepts and ideas unfold. For the citizens of Cloud County and the future of economic development, I hope the new facility becomes reality.”
As far as economic growth, in the short term Reynolds is focusing on funding for Get In The Cloud grants, and working with communities in Cloud County on their essential needs. She is also working on several larger proposals, though she can't say a lot about the specifics yet.
"That's just the way the process works for larger businesses," she said, "and it's a challenge for us. There's not a website we can click on that lists companies looking for a community like ours. They do their own homework; they conduct their own feasibility studies and research. They don't publicize their intent because they don't want their competitors to know the business steps they're thinking of taking."
When faced with a challenge Reynolds is tenacious; she gets things done. So being patient has been one of the hardest aspects of the job for her so far.
"It's been one of the biggest parts of the learning curve for me," she said with a laugh. "I still want to be as persistent as I can be, but it just takes time to move so much of the process through all the necessary channels."
When Reynolds looks to the future, she sees great potential for Concordia and all of Cloud County. Since the area is agricultural-based, those areas of business are always at the forefront of development. But because of the economic uncertainties of agriculture, diversification may be the key to a secure future.
"Given our location and our ease of transportation, there's a lot of potential here for Ag-related businesses. It would be great to add something like a processing plant for food and/or fiber. But we also need to diversify. As I continue to learn and grow within this position, a priority of mine is developing ideas to diversify. The key factor is creating jobs that pay a competitive wage that entices new residents and their families to move here."
Economic change is often a slow process, and Reynolds is schooling herself - and hopes area residents also understand - that patience and perseverance are the qualities needed now.
"The things we want won't happen overnight," she said. "Some of the big advancements we want to make aren't going to happen in six months or even a year. It may come in small steps at first: a small retail facility that employees 10-15 people; an influx of remote workforce employees over a period of several years."
In many ways Concordia and Cloud County is still thriving when so many other areas are not. The town and county face daunting challenges ahead, but the challenges are not insurmountable. CloudCorp Executive Director Kim Reynolds is ready to tackle those challenges.