PITTSBURG — Community members and local leaders gathered at Pittsburg State University Thursday to discuss business growth in across the state as part of a forum with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
Pittsburg was home to the third of seven stops as part of the Kansas Chamber’s tour around the state. Forums are setup in each town to get feedback from local governments, chambers, business leaders and more as part of the Kansas Chamber Vision 2025 initiative. The Kansas Chamber will use gathered data, as well as input from the forums to create a Vision 2025 strategic plan to foster business growth throughout the state.
Attendants to the forum participated in small-group discussions on four main topics — the Kansas Chamber’s four topics of focus. Topics included growing the state’s talent supply, advancing competitiveness, expanding innovation and entrepreneurship and improving business infrastructure.
“We’re doing this tour because we want to gain input from our communities on how we can apply these focuses,” Kansas Chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb said. “On many of these fronts Kansas has been okay, but we to discover how to be good, and even great.”
During a discussion on the state’s talent supply, many attendees brought up STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programs to advance workers in that field. They also discussed wages as compared to nearby states and ways to increase soft skills among younger workers.
Advancing the state’s competitiveness on a regional and national scale was also discussed. Taxes were zeroed in on as a hindrance to competitiveness. Kansas has a higher state sales tax and higher property taxes than many neighboring states. Some also said there is a bad perception of Kansas nationally as a “failed tax experiment.”
“I’d like to see the Kansas Chamber become a central message board for the more positive view of bringing business to Kansas,” Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall said. “And also possibly qualifying some of the reasons we have higher taxes by explaining with that comes better roads, etc.”
To increase innovation and entrepreneurship, PSU Vice President for Advancement Kathleen Flannery suggested the creation of a “new business navigator,” to which those starting a business could look to make sure they had check all the necessary boxes and were on track to correctly start their business with the state and local entities.
Kansas Chamber COO Kent Breisner agreed, and praised PSU for its current work to boost innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Pittsburg State has taken a great step in creating an innovation hub to get young people sharing and following up on ideas,” Breisner said. “I think the state as a whole could benefit from a similar hub.”
For the discussion on infrastructure, much of the talk centered around U.S. Highway 69, which has been delayed repeatedly as a state project. Breisner reported that his group discussed mismanagement of money by the state, and would like to see more control of earmarked money.
“We discussed the importance of the state to make a plan and stick to it,” he said. “Not taking money and using it elsewhere.”
The Kansas Chamber hosted forums in Topeka and Overland Park before coming to Pittsburg, and will make four more stops in Wichita, Dodge City, Hays and Salina.
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.