Business Trends by Gregg Motley

Business Trends


It is difficult for the average citizen to assess the relative health and growth of the Bourbon County business community because we do not have ready access to sales numbers of private businesses.  We tend to go by feel and whether or not our favorite stores are still open, but what does the data say?  Let us look at two counties in Southeast Kansas that are most comparable in size and complexion to Bourbon County: Neosho County and Allen County.


The simplest way to compare private business activity from county to county is to look at total payroll outlays.  Here is a seven year look at the three counties, ending is 2019, which is the last year available:


Dollars expressed with three zeros omitted.

County 2012 2019 % Change 2020 Pop. 10yr % Change
Allen $128,442 $160,725 23.3% 12,526 -6.3%
Bourbon $120,638 $148,724 23.3% 14,360 -5.4%
Neosho $164,261 $173,656 5.7% 15,904 -3.7%


Like Nevada, Missouri, Neosho County tends to rely upon a single large employer for their growth and future prosperity.  Although we do not have access to the gross sales of the one company, I suspect the lack of growth in Neosho County payroll is reflective of the relative success of the one company.


Allen County has a 2020 population base that is 1,834 less than Bourbon County, but much stronger payroll numbers.  Despite losing a higher percentage of their population over the last 10 years, their payroll growth kept pace with Bourbon County.  Much of this can be attributed to a larger geography draw for their employee base, as the competing cities in other counties are remote. Additionally, Iola draws from a wider geography for retail sales. Recently, a large Bourbon County employer chose Iola for their expansion over adding additional space in Fort Scott, presumably to tap into a new employment base.


It is encouraging that Bourbon County business continues to grow despite our population loss, and housing and infrastructure challenges.  We have a diverse group of strong, independent manufacturers and branch locations of major corporations that bodes well for our future.  We also have a solid group of local retailers and a growing traffic count along 69 Highway as the highway expansion continues, bringing more consumers through Bourbon County.


Our city and county governments continue to support the economic development efforts of Bourbon County REDI.  We are intently focused on health care and housing in order to retain our workforce, and give our employers a chance to attract more to facilitate their growth.  These efforts will be augmented by the launch of a Land Bank in our jurisdiction to deal with blighted properties, which has also garnered support from our government entities.  This will go a long way in helping the curb appeal of our communities and giving responsible owners of adjoining properties the respect they are due.


Of course, we are always on the lookout for new opportunities to introduce business investors to the overall quality of life that Bourbon County affords.  In the end, it is quality of life that business owners and their employees alike value most.

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