By Jeff Parsons
Economic Development Director
I’m a Liberal native. I grew up here during the 60’s and 70’s. My first real job in high school was delivering flowers and sweeping floors at for Ann Johnson at Johnson’s Flowers. After I graduated from high school I sold clothes at Kelly’s Men’s Wear during the summers and breaks while I attended college. I’m sure some of you other old-timers remember those former Downtown Liberal retailers. I learned so much working at those two very successful family run businesses. Back in those days retail business of all types, all around Liberal were very prosperous.
Fast forward to today. Many of the faces are different, businesses like Johnson’s Flowers and Kelly’s have been replaced with a newer lineup, but one thing remains the same, Liberal has a thriving retail sector. Liberal’s retailers offer up a great selection and variety of goods that customers from the entire region come to buy. In fact if you look at the numbers, Liberal’s retail sales have never been stronger. Sales tax collections in Liberal for the month of February 2013 were the largest amount collected in a single month…ever! And all indications point to significant growth on the way.
Liberal’s population is growing and shoppers from Southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles continue to use Liberal as a regional hub for many activities such as entertainment, recreation, healthcare & shopping. The economy in Liberal and the entire region is strong. Unemployment is low and our industrial sector is as strong today as it has ever been. Oil & Gas exploration and production, a long-time staple of our economy, is experiencing tremendous growth and that growth is bringing with it more great paying jobs. Several major construction projects in the region have also brought many new workers into Liberal and neighboring towns.
What do all these workers want to do with their money? Well…spend it, of course, and we’re going to help them do just that! Liberal Economic Development spends some time every day recruiting new retailers to Liberal and we have a great product to sell! We have a trade area populated by 91,000 people who have money to spend and don’t want to leave the region to spend it. For small boutique retailers, there are some existing storefronts available in proven retail corridors. For larger retailers, we have land available close by to retail developments with good traffic patterns. The City is ready with some great incentives to help the process along.
Beginning this May 1st, Owasso Oklahoma based Retail Attractions, a retail recruiting firm, has been hired by the City to assist Liberal in attracting new businesses. Retail Attractions has already hit the trail on our behalf, talking to retailers, tenant representatives, and developers about doing business in Liberal. The ball has already begun to roll. A couple of local businesses have expanded and a couple new retailers have opened for business.
More are on the way!
National Helium opened in Liberal, Kansas in 1963 and is the largest helium plant in the world.