The new director of the Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation (ECODEVO) has hit the ground running in her first three months on the job.

Shanna Goodman, of Wamego, was hired in January to succeed long-time former director Jack Allston, who retired in late 2023 after nine years on the job. She says the first three months on the job have been spent learning and understanding who’s who among organizations and their priorities. She says she’s been set up for success already getting to understand the Pott County 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

“Even the first section of that document talks about preserving agriculture and how we need to focus development and growth in concentrated areas so that we can let the rest of the county shine agriculturally,” she said.

She explains that part of her role will be gathering resources and recognizing what stakeholders are trying to accomplish in growing the economy in a team effort. Goodman says small towns have the opportunity to flourish the same way Wamego has for so many years.

“I went and met with them and spoke with them about a month ago and they have a ton of things going on and there is absolutely no reason why St. Marys and Westmoreland can’t be, in 20 to 25 years, what Wamego is to Manhattan,” she said.

Goodman says those communities, as well as St. George, are poised to take on the next level of exponential concentrated growth, noting the infrastructure and people are already there. St. Marys created the new Kaw Valley Chamber of Commerce last fall.

As for job growth, Manhattan Area Technical College’s Wamego campus has partnered with Caterpillar to create training opportunities for students interested in manufacturing careers.

“I had a great conversation about a welding lab that they’re working on together. It’s going to have a Caterpillar instructor. They’ll be working to train high school students to be welders,” she said.

The hope is to create a pipeline of welders to fulfill some of the company’s staffing needs and upskill some of its current workforce into more specialized welding professionals.

Growing and retaining workforce remains a challenge for economic development officials and Goodman says the other thing needed in the area is available warehouse space. Goodman says having things like the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership to help strategically market the region to lure in companies is a huge benefit.

There’s so many things that that draw people to Manhattan and it is a bit landlocked in in the capacity to grow, but I think that’s what makes our partnership very important because we do have the opportunity, whether it’s the Green Valley Industrial Park, the Wamego Industrial Park, we’ve got some private developers that have land that we have continuously advertised and marketed, ” she said. “Working together really helps sell the region in a way that if any of us were just one on one having conversations, I don’t think we’d get very far.”

Goodman says she understands the public interest and concern about the region’s largest ever investment, Scorpius Biomanufacturing, which was announced two years ago. To date there has been no movement on any project at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 24 and Excel Road.

Goodman says the fact that two years have passed since the April 2022 announcement, which generated much buzz surrounding Manhattan’s future as a hub for biomanufacturing technology, was made abundantly clear to the Scorpius executive team, which met with the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership group earlier this month.

“That’s kind of the conversation that we had with the Scorpius execs was that it’s been two years. They know this, we know this and they have said that they remain committed to the project. The project might look a little bit different from the original, but they are working within a timeline of finalizing some things and the state is still in conversation with them,” she said.

Goodman says Scorpius, which has not received any local incentives from the City of Manhattan or Pottawatomie County, will continue to be at the table as long as the State of Kansas is at the table.

“But it was made pretty clear the timelines that need to be met, some of the things that need to take place and also that we need some regular communication from them and we need updated so that we can help kind of re-energize people on this,”

Goodman says local officials left the meeting with some next steps and remains optimistic that it will continue to move forward.

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