For any company with a nose for cheap real estate, it looked like a deal right from over the rainbow. Last January, Salina, Kans., with a population of 43,000, an unemployment rate of 5.8%, and gumption unlimited, took out ads in four industrial-site magazines and two regional business magazines, and sent direct-mail packages to 4,000 corporations with this amazing free home-offer: one acre of land, gratis, to any company with 25 employees or more willing to plunk itself down in Salina. "We'll pull out all the stops . . . utilities, property-tax forgiveness, tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds . . . whatever it takes to get industries," gushed the accompanying press release. "For larger employers, we'll expand the incentives."
According to local officials, those incentives came with "no strings attached." "We thought we needed something to get the attention of readers," explained Bob Whitworth, executive vice-president of the Salina Chamber of Commerce, a prime sponsor of the giveaway deal. "Unless you have a seashore or a landscape, all the ads look the same."
The Great Salina Land Rush has been on for nine months now, and to date the field looks pretty uncrowded. Out of 68 inquiries, 10 seem promising, but so far not one company has stepped forward to take title to its own little corner of Kansas. Not that Salina has been too fussy. "We'll take almost anything that comes along," says Whitworth. "We're not too particular. We're looking for jobs."
One of the jobs that might be available: designing Salina's 1984 economic expansion campaign. As Whitworth notes, "People get tired of the same program."