By Jessie Wagoner
McPherson County is faring better economically than other counties in the region, in spite of the economic impact of COVID-19.
Kasi Morales, executive director of the McPherson Industrial Development Company (MIDC) recently provided city and county commissioners with a quarterly update. Prior to the pandemic, McPherson manufacturers were off to a strong start in 2020.
“Before the pandemic, it was looking like a really good year for McPherson industry,” Morales said. “Comparing quarter one 2019 to quarter one 2020 manufacturing employment, you can see we were sitting at 5,292 manufacturing jobs, which is 11 percent over last year.”
Many of the employees filling those positions are commuting into McPherson from area towns. Since 2019, Morales reports an 18 percent increase in the number of commuting employees. Approximately 1,348 people commute to McPherson for work.
Morales was able to provide a breakdown of how many commuters come from other counties. The most popular county was Harvey, which brings 574 commuters, followed closely by Reno with 521 commuters. McPherson County also pulls a number of employees from Marion, Sedgwick, Saline and Rice counties.
“Although 2020 has presented some challenges, our manufacturers are very optimistic about the future, so we should be, too,” Morales said.
Before the pandemic, there were five industry expansions in progress in the community. Morales was pleased to report all five of the expansions are moving forward. S&R Warehouse, Piping Technology Company and Mid Kansas Machine Inc. expansions are all moving forward quickly with a considerable amount of progress made in the first quarter.
In addition to the current expansions underway, Morales has also received several requests for information from site selectors for other industries. When Morales receives these requests, she is able to provide industries with information about the community, including utility rates and available sites. In quarter one, Morales had 12 requests for information with two companies requesting additional information after the first contact.
“We never know where these things will land, but in at least two of the cases, McPherson floated to the top of their list,” Morales said.
Although McPherson County has seen an increase in unemployment rates due to the pandemic, it is still faring better than other counties in the region. McPherson County currently has an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, an increase from last year’s average of 2 percent. Regionally, the unemployment rate is currently sitting at 7.35 percent.
“We peaked out in April at 5.8 percent while in the region it was about 10 percent,” Morales said.
Morales highlighted some of the ways McPherson industry has attempted to give back during the pandemic. Pointing out that while COVID-19 has posed challenges for local companies, they have been able to continue operations with very few layoffs thanks to programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and Work Share programs.
One local employer raised almost $22,000 for the McPherson County Food Bank through a local giving campaign of individual donations paired with their corporate matching gift program. Another employer has used their expertise to assist with virus decontamination efforts and also donated $18,000 to local charities through individual and matching gifts. Another employer is making and donating face shields to first responders with another designing and making hands-free door opening devices for public spaces in McPherson County.
“Even though it has been a hard year our industry leaders are still optimistic,” Morales said. “There have been some generous outpouring of support in the form of donations, both time and resources, from these manufacturers. It has been a difficult time but still encouraging to see their efforts.”