LaHARPE, the third largest community in Allen County, is a former boom town and center of heavy industry that has returned to a quieter existence in the 21st century.
LaHarpe is unique, at least as compared to other Allen County communities. It has the second lowest average age in the county (after Bassett), and fewer residents aged 65 or older than even the national average. Yet the community also suffers from low educational levels, poor resident health and significant housing challenges.
After a precipitous drop following the depletion of Allen County’s gas fields, LaHarpe’s population has held relatively steady for the past 70 years. Yet since 2000 the community’s recent population trends have been downward, like all communities in Allen County, with LaHarpe falling at roughly the same rate seen in larger communities like Iola and Humboldt.
There is no detailed statistical data available about LaHarpe residents’ health. Based on lower than average educational levels and a higher than average poverty rate, we estimate that LaHarpe has health conditions that are below average, with obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse and lack of exercise contributing to a diminished quality of life and poor resident health.
LaHarpe has no medical clinics of any kind. Most residents are believed to travel to nearby Iola for medical care, whether to private practices or Allen County Hospital.
PARKS AND RECREATION
LaHarpe has a small city park with older playground equipment in need of maintenance and repair or replacement. There are shelters and older picnic tables located in the park near the playground equipment, along with a wellmaintained softball complex adjacent to the playground.
LaHarpe’s sidewalk infrastructure is very limited. Many of the sidewalks that exist are in fair to poor condition and pose hazards to walkers. This forces many residents to walk in the street, which increases their likelihood of injury or accident. In most areas of the community sidewalks are non-existent.
LaHarpe has 313 housing units in 2008, which represents a net loss of only one home since the 2000 census. The majority (75.4%) of homes in LaHarpe are single family detached homes, with the remaining 24.3% of the community’s housing stock comprised of mobile homes.
The majority of single family houses are 50+ years old, with the average LaHarpe home in the year 2008 having a value of $77,295. Housing values have risen in LaHarpe over the past decade, despite a 11.5% vacancy rate in the city.
LaHarpe has aggressively incentivized construction of new homes in the community by providing free building lots for use by USD 257’s building trades program, which constructs one house annually. These new homes have helped the community maintain the number of homes in the city while most other Allen County cities have lost housing units.
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY
Though once Allen County’s second largest jobs center, LaHarpe today has a fairly limited commercial base. Geography is a double-edge sword for LaHarpe; its proximity to Iola allows the community to provide a home for workers in Iola, yet this same proximity makes it difficult to support many service or retail establishments. The community is proud to still have a restaurant, major lumber yard, convenience store, a greenhouse and a metal salvage yard, among other businesses.
Given the employment breakdown of LaHarpe residents it appears that most working residents are employed by businesses and industries located outside of the community, likely in Iola or Humboldt.
LaHarpe is challenged on multiple fronts, including the quality of its housing stock, relatively low educational levels among residents, a high poverty rate and limited amenities to attract new residents.
With comparatively little economic activity located in LaHarpe the community’s fate, like that of Gas, is closely tied to Iola since a large number of jobs there are held by LaHarpe residents. Should economic conditions in Iola worsen it will have a negative ripple effect that may hit LaHarpe especially hard due to its poverty level. To the extent that LaHarpe can develop business in its own community it will improve its likelihood of weathering economic storms that hit employers in surrounding communities.
Housing is a challenge for every Allen County community, but perhaps nowhere more than in LaHarpe. The city of LaHarpe has taken good steps to recruit new residents and incentivize home building, as described above. These measures must be continued, and should be combined with aggressive code enforcement campaigns to eliminate blight. Community appearance is a challenge that puts LaHarpe at a competitive disadvantage when attempting to attract new residents, particularly those with higher educational levels and household incomes.
LaHarpe has been savvy in recruiting new residents dislocated in the Great Flood of 2007 to their town, welcoming these residents to their town with open arms. A number of these residents have stayed, which will help the community in the 2010 census. These new residents could be enlisted as “ambassadors” to talk about the advantages of living in LaHarpe, whether its lower cost of living or the town’s quiet nature, through a word-of-mouth marketing campaign.
LaHarpe is also the home to three businesses that draw retail shoppers and others to town: TLC Greenhouse, Diebolt Lumber and Ray’s Metal Depot. These three businesses help keep LaHarpe “on the map” by attracting county residents who might not otherwise have a reason to visit LaHarpe. These important community businesses should be recognized for the positive impact they have on raising the LaHarpe community’s visibility.
And finally, despite having some challenges, LaHarpe is still the third largest town in the county— and by a significant margin. This may come as a surprise to some—even some residents of LaHarpe. This very fact can be a source of community pride to help build momentum for making improvements that will benefit LaHarpe over the next decades.