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Outlook group seeks housing options





Suitable housing remains a hurdle in economic development for the area.

That was one of the messages at Friday morning's Hays Economic Outlook Conference at Robbins Center on the Fort Hays State University campus.

The real estate market in rural areas has remained stable, said Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate at Wichita State University.

"The housing boom and bust really didn't hit rural areas," he said.

The five-month inventory available locally is fairly balanced, but demand outpaces supply in Hays and the surrounding area.

Some businesses would like to expand but lack the labor to do so, said Dan Steffen, regional project manager for the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Labor pools exist in other areas, but out-of-town workers "can't find an afford place to live in those communities."

"In Ellis County, we now have manufacturers talking about investing in housing projects," said Aaron White, executive director of the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.

Companies don't want to get into the housing market but might have to in order to grow.

One company's recent hiring promotion in other cities yielded plenty of prospective employees.

The business "hired no one because (employees) couldn't find a place to live," White said.

Conference speakers also addressed agriculture and the general economic outlook for the state.

Uncertainty about the economy continues in the general business community, said Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development & Business Research at Wichita State University.

"The national economy is expected to grow by 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2014," he said. "For Kansas, we're predicting about 1.4 percent growth over this next year."