Danedri Thompson
To understand where we’re going, you have to understand where you’ve been, Gardner City Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee told city council members and special guests during a visioning workshop last month.
The city is preparing to draft a new comprehensive plan  this year that will help mold Gardner’s future growth. Their also creating a vision for the community.
“I learned early on if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there,” Harrison-Lee said.
The council began the process of developing a visioning and strategic plan for the city last September. In January, guests from Lathrop and Gage, a Kansas City, Mo. law firm; county chair Ed Eilert; and Bob Marcusse, president of the Kansas City Area Economic Development Council; spoke with city officials about the past and future.
Harrison-Lee kicked off the workshop with a power point presentation about Gardner as it is today.
Since 1980, she told the group, Gardner’s population has doubled every 10 years. Even if growth slows to half that rate, the city will be home to 30,000 people by 2020.
Most of the population growth is the result of family units moving to the community, she explained with equal numbers of men and women between the ages of 5 and 64 residing in town.
Nearly half, or 43 percent of Gardner’s population is in its prime wage earning years. While that number appears high, Harrison-Lee said it’s low compared to the rest of Johnson County where more than 50 percent are in their prime earning years.
Average home values in Gardner lag behind the average Johnson County home. The average Gardner home is valued at approximately $165,000; while the average home in Johnson County costs approximately $212,000.
Local incomes also lag behind that of its Johnson County counterparts. The average annual household income in Gardner is $65,000; in Johnson County, it’s $75,000. Both averages are significantly higher than the state’s average household income of $50,000.
Gardner residents have expendable income, she said. However, combined property tax rates outpace those of its Johnson County neighbors.
“Our tax burden to our residents is higher,” Harrison-Lee said. In part, she explained, that’s due to overlapping funding needs of the school district and the city.
Gardner residents overwhelmingly, 72 percent, reside in owner-occupied homes, and most, 58.9 percent, of those homes include a husband and a wife.
This means Gardner is a stable community. It’s one of many positives the city can capitalize on as it seeks to attract growth, Harrison-Lee said.
There are however challenges.
“The city hasn’t cultivated success in terms of business development,” she said.
That results in a largely daytime economy. Gardner also lacks second-tier housing and due to rapid growth, the city’s infrastructure is near maximum capacity.
The community is “on the cusp of a major transformation,” she explained.
“…As we move forward, it’s going to be important to maximize our competitive advantage. Economic development is going to be what we live and die by.”
County commission chair Ed Eilert, in a following presentation, told Gardner officials not to overlook certain areas of industry as they seek to draft plans for the future. For example, he said manufacturing is a growing big business in the county. He cited Garmin, ScriptPro, Honeywell and Gardner’s own Cramer Industries as examples.
“Don’t overlook the spin off or support businesses for the intermodal,” Eilert also suggested.
While drafting a plan, he suggested city officials inventory community assets and engage the community, including citizens and the business community.
City officials appointed 18 citizens who will serve on a Citizen Visioning Committee. The committee will be tasked with improving the focus and direction of the city by implementing a mission statement, vision and strategic plan; and assisting in changing the attitude and culture of city hall to become more business friendly; and accepting and focusing on growth.
The visioning process will include a series of “Meet and Greet” sessions. The first session will include representatives from large retail and financial institutions; a second session will include small businesses; and a third will include representatives from manufacturing and medical.
Attendees of the sessions and the community visioning committee will be asked to fill out surveys and engage in open dialogue about the future of Gardner.