By Sydney Yalshevec

Welcome Center enjoys successful first year of business


Sydney Yalshevec

Bob from Des Moines, Iowa stopped into the welcome center Friday, July 11, becoming their 10,000th visitor.

On July 8, 2014, The High Point Welcome Center turned one year old. On Friday, July 11, the welcome center had its 10,000th visitor. In a mere year the welcome center has become a hub of activity and promotion for Kimball and the surrounding areas.

Most recently the building that the welcome center operates out of was purchased as well as the 14 acres on which the building sits. The building was purchased by the county, who took out bonds to do so as well as using money provided by the welcome center from the lodging tax reserve. Jo Caskey, Visitors Committee Director, explained how the bonds will be paid back.

"A chunk of the money came out of our lodging tax reserves meaning the visitors committee budget. The rest of the money came through the bonds that the county took out, and we'll repay those bonds monthly from lodging tax dollars. We have up to 10 years to pay off the bond," Caskey said.

The lodging tax that Caskey mentioned isn't something that costs the residents of Kimball anything. It's a tax put on the cost of hotel rooms in the area. A tax which currently sits at four percent in Kimball. In order to set up the system concerning the lodging tax the presence of a visitors committee is required.

"That tax goes into one of two funds, either the visitors improvement fund or the visitors promotion fund and that's where our base funds come from. We use that to market Kimball and try to get people to come to us," Caskey said.

Even though the visitors committee does have the means through the lodging tax in order to pay back the bonds to the county, Caskey is still hard at work in search of grants so that they might get to pay off those bonds early. This way the lodging tax can be used in other ways that benefit the welcome center.

"I was hired in 2013 with two specific projects in mind. One was to open up a welcome center on I-80, and the other was to start marketing Kimball to a wider audience," Caskey said.

By July of 2013, the welcome center was officially open, and by July 2014 the welcome center building, its contents and the 14 acres upon which it sits were purchased. Now over 10,000 visitors have been through that welcome center. Clearly, Caskey has accomplished what she was set out to do.

Another thing that Caskey mentioned was that the current lodging tax isn't enough to support a facility of their size.

"I have two full-time staffers up here, myself, and, quite frankly ,the lodging tax is not enough to cover the day-to-day operations of a welcome facility of this size. That's why our partnerships are so important," Caskey said.

Caskey has worked hard to seek out help from surrounding areas that might benefit from the presence of a welcome center in Kimball.

"The city of Kimball give us support as does the county. Support from the city of Gering, outside of the county they are our biggest supporter. We have support from Scotts Bluff County, support from Morrilll County, Garden County and Dawes County," Caskey said.

In addition to her partnerships and grants, Caskey finds other revenue streams to make sure the bills get paid at the welcome center. For instance, the kiosk in the welcome center that provides visitors with directions and information on local attractions has a monthly maintenance fee that must be paid.

"With the Kiosk we have people from out of county who have shown interest in the kiosk and who are now advertising on the kiosk which means that since they are paying for their profiles on that kiosk, the kiosk pretty much pays for its own maintenance that way," Caskey said.

In an effort to think of more ways in which the welcome center could bring in revenue, Caskey explained that the current kitchen equipment, that was included with the purchase of the building, is going to be for sale.

"The other thing is that there is a ton of restaurant equipment that came with this facility and we are no a restaurant and we have no intention of competing with the local restaurants, so anybody interested in restaurant equipment should contact me and make an appointment to come see," Caskey said.

Caskey also mentioned that there are eight acres to the west of the welcome center that they hope to possibly get a hospitality business built on in the future. She said that she will be working with Kimball economic development and Panhandle Area Development District in order to pursue a plan for getting the word out that they have those eight acres available for development.

In addition to working on the revenue streams, Caskey also takes the time to make sure that Kimball gets put on the map through event hosting. The bird tours offered at the welcome center have attracted the attention of the Nebraska Ornithologist's Union.

"The Nebraska Ornithologists' Union, we will be hosting their spring meeting in 2016. They sent us a huge box of humming bird feeders and asked us to assist with their hummingbird migration project. So we have locations in town that they can drive by and make documentation," Caskey said.

This is a benefit to the community because during that time there will be people staying in hotels and spending money within the community. Kimball is in the path of a hummingbird migration that happens during August and September. Now that that attention has been drawn, people will be coming through to make documentation of the birds on their migration, hence the need for the feeders.

"I'm looking for people who might want to take a hummingbird feeder and put it somewhere visible from the road in their yard so that when they come and do the observations that they can do it from the road. Also they must be willing to clean it out when it gets dirty," Caskey said.

The ornithologists aren't the only ones whose attention Caskey is grabbing. Kimball will also be hosting a Mounted Shooters' competition.

"I've started going around and actively looking for sponsors for the shoot out at the Kimball corral with the Mounted Shooters. The more we can help find in sponsorship, the larger their prize money will be and the more of an attraction it will be for more entrants, which means more people here in Kimball staying in hotels and spending their money in our town," Caskey said.

Sponsors for the event do not need to be a business. They can be individuals or groups or clubs. Sponsor donations can be as little as $5 and as large as the sponsor deems appropriate. The other two things that Caskey is seeking out are a cleanup crew and food vendors for the event. Since the targets are balloons, a cleanup crew is needed to pick up balloons that will be all over the arena. Caskey is also looking for licensed food vendors to sell food at the event on August 23 and 24.

It is very clear that the welcome center and the visitors committee have been making quite the impact on the surrounding areas. With over 10,000 visitors having walked through the doors of the welcome center, the purchase of the building was clearly in the best interest of the community, especially since it is without financial burden to the local residents.


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