Officials in Pratt brag on its "unique shopping experiences," yet there's no denying there are empty buildings downtown, and former retail stores that are now occupied by professional services.

Even if buildings sit empty for a time, work is going on to enhance the business community, both by recruiting new companies and by supporting existing businesses.

"We always have our ear to the ground," said Jan Scarbrough, executive director of both the Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce and Pratt Area Economic Development Corporation. "We receive information from the (Kansas) Department of Commerce about businesses looking for new locations, and we follow up with ones we think we might have a shot at."

The office and/or the board have had discussions with several businesses, providing them with information and contacts, Scarbrough reported to the Pratt City Commission on July 15. Some of those businesses decided not to pursue their venture, and some are still in the planning phases and not ready to formally present their plans.

Sometimes a company will contact her and say, "we're looking at Pratt, what can you do for us?"

PAEDC can offer financial incentives, basing decisions on how many jobs will be created, as well as sales tax and property tax that will be generated by a new business. Funds come from the city and county, and to a lesser degree, the Chamber of Commerce, Scarbrough said.

An agreement was recently finalized with Pratt Airport Authority for the construction of an additional building for McJunkin Red Man Corp. in the Pratt Airport Industrial Park. The agreement is contingent upon the business maintaining a minimum of 10 employees over the next five years.

PAEDC has also finalized an agreement to contribute money for the construction of a new hotel on K-61. The funds will not be paid out until the hotel is fully completed and in operation, and will be in the form of reimbursement for expenses incurred in the development of the property.

Assistance was provided to the new owners of Park Hills Country Club for reworking the well that provides drinking water for the clubhouse. The board agreed that the updates and renovations being made to the "rentable" portion of the facility would be a benefit to Pratt for hosting events, wedding receptions and public meetings, according to Scarbrough.

The corporation did not have to go seeking the recent oil and gas activity that has come to the area, but "once they were knocking on our door," Scarbrough said they have been instrumental in helping them find properties to rent.

Some businesses are not a good fit for Pratt. If they're looking for 200 employees, the workforce is not available. Some are looking for more major airports, Scarbrough said, although she considers Pratt Regional Airport to be a plus, allowing business people to fly in on smaller jets and do business locally.

Another plus for the community is the availability of hotel accommodations. Hotel chains do their own market research, Scarbrough said, and they're confident in their decisions to build in Pratt. It's midway between Kansas City and the western part of the state or beyond, some people would rather stay in a small town than fight the traffic in Wichita and the town is clean and quiet.

Hotel operators have told Scarbrough they have a good amount of repeat business.

The economic development corporation also supports existing businesses, a fact Scarbrough said many people don't know. Two LEAP (Loan Economic Assistance Program) loans for $5,000 or less are currently active and payments are being made monthly.

Larger loans are available through the Great Plains Development Corporation.

"We are also here to help existing businesses when they want to expand or change locations," Scarbrough said.

The PAEDC board has discussed the need for additional housing, and may undertake a housing assessment as a prerequisite for applying for state funds.