Development director shares hope, frustration
Last updated 8/15/2023 at 5:28pm
RITZVILLE – Adams County Development Council Executive Director Kyle Niehenke doesn’t sugarcoat the obstacles to commercial development here.
Yet, he remains optimistic.
At the weekly Adams County Commission meeting Aug. 1, Niehenke discussed his attendance at a recent commercial conference in Las Vegas, Nev.
“I wouldn’t say all the feedback about Ritzville was positive,” he said. “Developers don’t hold back. They share their honest opinions.”
He observed that some locals have the mindset that “it’s just too expensive here, so development is never going to happen.”
Niehenke countered that developers might select a site with cheaper utility costs elsewhere, but they’ll also pay more for property taxes, land acquisition and labor.
“I’m trying to prevent people from short-selling us,” he said.
County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Flyckt added his observations.
“It’s the same old thing,” he said. “Decade-after-decade, there are good ideas. Somebody is going to build this or build that. But then we’re told, ‘that place is just impossible to deal with...’”
He asked Niehenke for suggestions about changing that mindset.
“I think the answer is education,” he responded. “That might include negotiating more reasonable prices for land.
“Everyone wants to hit a home run every time, but a lot of singles add up to a good score.”
To address critical labor needs, Niehenke is working with local school districts.
This year Ritzville’s career showcase will be Oct. 19.
“It’s important to show our students that there’s opportunity here,” he said.
He cited his own career journey from Bellevue to this side of the state.
“I left Bellevue and got a pay raise because of the lower cost-of-living. And I was doing the same job,” he said.
“I don’t think we’ve really analyzed the roadblocks and hurdles to development,” Commission Chairman Jay Wiese said. “What hinders businesses who want to set up shop here? Zoning issues? Ordinances?
“All those rules were put in place 20, 40, 75 years ago. They need to be revisited.”
Wiese also pointed to recent successes.
“Look at some of the good things happening in Ritzville,” he said. “Akins grocery came into town and now it’s a beautiful facility. Bronco Inn has added many rooms and those rooms are filling up.”
“At peak hours, 25,000 vehicles drive through this area,” he said. “They all have cash to spend.”
He noted several businesses considering Ritzville.
“Panda Express, Arby’s and Dollar General have all shown some interest in developing sites here,” he said. “But the price needs to be reasonable. I also see Ritzville opening up to warehousing and logistics because of the railway and freeway junctions.”
He reiterated the need to educate people.
“Community forums are one way to do that,” he said. “I also would like to see more people showing up to city council meetings.”
On the other hand, Niehenke shared his frustrations with the recent candidate forum.
The candidates who spoke didn’t seem to be aware of Adams County Development Council as a development resource, according to Niehenke.
“It was as if I didn’t exist,” he said. “I attend at least one city council meeting every month. For me, it was a frustrating event and proof we need to do better. All I can do is observe and work with whoever shows up.”
Later that day, Niehenke again voiced his concerns at the Ritzville City Council meeting.
“At the forum, the candidates were asked a few questions about economic development,” he said. “None of them even mentioned our council. It was a little disheartening.”
He reminded the council that Adams County specifically funds his organization to foster economic development.
“It would help if the city could make citizens more aware of our work,” he said.