Economic ‘cheerleader’ details local mission

April 25, 2011 by

CloudCorp Inc. executive director Kirk Lowell discusses economic development Monday evening at the Motherhouse as the third presenter in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series.

In just over an hour and a half Monday evening, Kirk Lowell proved that he is a storyteller, a country boy, a salesman, a realist — and a committed cheerleader for Concordia and Cloud County.

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The executive director of CloudCorp Inc., the economic development organization for Cloud County, was the third presenter in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Nazareth Motherhouse. Nearly 60 people were in the audience as Lowell outlined the 55-year history of CloudCorp, its original and evolving mission and its role in today’s economy. And while he ran a bit over the advertised ending time, he kept the audience entertained with quips and stories to illustrate the serious topic.

“This is not a tea and crumpets organization,” he said of the 25-member CloudCorp board, noting that he’s heard complaints that board members serve too long and work too little. “We have a breadth of experience that’s important.”

Lowell — who started with CloudCorp as a volunteer in 1985 and has been executive director since 1993 — also countered complaints that the private organization has not changed with the times.

“The (original) 1956 board would not have worked on the Majestic Theatre project or the Walmart project or the fuel station in Aurora or Buy The Book,” he said. “They were all about industry.

“But you can’t chase the smokestack — and today most people don’t want the smokestack,” he added, referring to most heavy industry.

The organization was formed when the population of Cloud County had begun to decline, he pointed out, falling from a high near 20,000 to about 15,000 in 1956. “We went from a one word mission statement in 1956 — ‘Jobs’ — to a one-sentence mission statement and now a one-page mission statement.”

But even that one page can be summed up in just three action words, he said: facilitate, coordinate, communicate. “That’s what we do.”

One way of measuring success, Lowell noted, is the county’s ranking in the Kansas Inc. Economic Vitality and Distress Annual Report. Of the state’s 105 counties, Cloud had routinely been very near the bottom in overall rankings. As recently as 2007, Cloud County’s “economic vitality” was rated at 101st in the state. But the 2009 report — the most recent available — ranks the county at 73rd overall.

“And I think it’s going to get even better in spite of ourselves,” he added, “because there are some people who just won’t give up on Cloud County.”

In one exercise with the audience, however, Lowell demonstrated why some residents remain resistant to change and complacent about the economy.

Using a large graph showing population from the time the county was established in the 1860s, he asked each member of the audience to place a red dot on the year he or she had arrived in Cloud County. The county’s population had peaked in 1890 and has been on a slow but steady decline ever since, and all of the red dots were clustered on that downward slope.

“The Sisters of St. Joseph as an organization came here in the period of expansion,” he noted, “but individually we all came here in the period of decline. We’re comfortable with decline because that’s all we know.”

But continuing that trend is not inevitable, he argued. He cited what he called the law of successful economic development: “If your community does not take good care of its existing businesses and new business prospects, some other community will.”

Or, put another way, “The more backward one community thinks, the more another community cheers. There’s just no denying that.”

What’s required is thinking in terms of community development rather than the older ideas of industrial or purely economic development. And that requires effort at all levels and in all areas of the community, he said.



2 Responses to “Economic ‘cheerleader’ details local mission”

  1. Jodi Creten on April 26th, 2011 6:29 am

    Yes, community development! That’s our forte! Seems as if the forums themselves have been about that movement!

  2. Loretta Jasper on April 26th, 2011 5:00 am

    From the reading of this, it seems as if we are all being challenged to re-cast and re-calibrate our approach and thinking in moving this local community on a track which will build new ways of living and sustenance.

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