Regionalism is easy to preach and hard to practice.
The Manhattan, Kansas, area recently saw regionalism at its best with the opening of the new Corteva Agriscience research and development center in Wamego, a city of 5,000 just east of Manhattan.
The Greater Manhattan (Kansas) Economic Partnership (GMEP) conducts business recruitment activities for both the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce (MACC) and the Wamego-based Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation (PCEDC).
The group celebrated its first collective win with the Corteva Agriscience announcement at the beginning of 2020. Manhattan didn’t have an appropriate location, but MACC staff members knew Pottawatomie County had land in the Wamego Industrial Park that would be a perfect fit. In the end, GMEP was able to supply an ideal site, now one of 16 such Corteva facilities throughout the United States. The finished 22,000 square-foot building includes office, lab and warehouse space and now employs about 20 people.
“I’ve seen a lot of communities espouse regional collaboration until there is a project on the line,” said Jason Smith, president and CEO of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce. “But there was no hesitation in preserving Corteva in our area, even if it meant a move to another community. I’m proud of the collaborative spirit here.”
Corteva Evaluation Zone Lead Les Kuhlman said that having regional facilities helps the company conduct research to produce seeds that will thrive in a specific area.
“We are regionally based to serve our customer the best,” Kuhlman said. “When a farmer comes to a seed facility, they don’t want to buy something from Illinois, which may not work for them. That doesn’t make sense. We make our seeds locally and we test them locally, so there is way more confidence (in the things we create).”
A primary benefit of the Wamego location, Kuhlman said, is to be close to Manhattan’s Kansas State University faculty as well as students in K-State’s College of Agriculture.
“Being close to K-State gives us access to a highly educated workforce,” Kuhlman said, referring to hiring students for both internship opportunities and full-time employment once they graduate. “Being close to the ag school makes it much easier to recruit students to come and interact with us and learn.”
Nancy Burton, chair of the GMEP board of directors, said that the Corteva facility proved that GMEP’s shared economic development model works. Now more than a year after the Wamego facility was announced, the organization has gone on to celebrate additional victories and is currently collaborating on several joint proposals.
“Wamego is a small community. Many people who love to live here actually work in Manhattan. They shop in Manhattan. They find their entertainment in Manhattan,” Burton said. “Basically, what we’re doing is blurring the lines of our communities, and we’re selling ourselves as a region.”