Kansas recently passed an unexpected economic development milestone, topping $2 billion in projects so far this year across Kansas.
It’s an even more impressive total considering the state saw $1.3 billion in capital investment in all of 2019 — and the sharp increase over last year occurred in spite of the far-reaching economic harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession that shook the world economy.
Facing the staggering and unprecedented toll of the virus, businesses worldwide raced to embrace a new normal — and Kansas was ready with strategic opportunities. As a result, Gov. Laura Kelly has announced impressive Kansas-based growth plans from firms including Amazon, Merck and Co., Urban Outfitters, Schwan’s, Kubota, Bell Textron and others.
We now have nearly $3.5 billion in economic investment since the Kelly administration took office in January 2019 — and there will be more significant developments to announce very soon. Every investment, every new job of the more than 19,000 created and thousands more retained since 2019 are helping our state recover and grow.
The surge has been fueled by Gov. Kelly’s commitment to helping businesses of all sizes succeed through smart and transparent economic development strategies. Without question, Kansas was uniquely positioned to move quickly and effectively when COVID-19 struck.
Not every state was this fortunate. We were prepared because Gov. Kelly set the foundation for recovery with swift action after taking office.
With the Department of Commerce she inherited in disarray, the governor was clear from the start: Fix our state’s economic development agency and launch a blueprint for economic success. Our new Framework for Growth, the first such endeavor in more than three decades, showcases Kansas’ numerous strengths in a central location, solid infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, great schools, quality-of-life amenities and other advantages.
Another early and significant step forward came in the long overdue ceasefire of the economic border war with Missouri that ended the senseless luring of businesses across the border for practically no economic gain. All of our state incentives now are exclusively geared toward meaningful job creation and robust economic growth, and always with transparency in mind.
Just more than a year into our efforts to resurrect Commerce and enact a thoughtful growth plan, the coronavirus did change life as we knew it. But COVID-19 didn’t derail our economic development push in Kansas. In fact, the opposite occurred.
We rolled up our sleeves and did even more to present Kansas as a truly prime location for forward-thinking businesses. Many companies — especially those overseas — want to make their supply chains more secure, so they’re rethinking production and distribution strategies. Kansas fits their distribution and logistics needs in many ways.
The current momentum shows Kansas also becoming a national leader in manufacturing, bioscience, renewable energy sources and other key sectors. As a result, the state’s project pipeline is stronger than it’s been in several years, even during a pandemic.
Thanks to the commitment of our restructured, re-energized team at Commerce, companies are rediscovering Kansas. Understandably, they’re impressed.
We’re also helping Kansans and companies circumvent coronavirus-related challenges by offering virtual job fairs and supporting businesses with Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas grant funding.
All of these endeavors are combining to power a more stable economy and business climate that will serve Kansas well for many years to come.
Gov. Kelly’s direct involvement in this process and her relationship-building with prospects have been difference-makers in every way. Without doubt, our Education Governor also deserves recognition as the Economic Development Governor.
Under her leadership, we’re offering the best place in the nation to do business. Kansas’ natural advantages, spirit of innovation and unfaltering work ethic have helped drive recent economic growth.
And we won’t slow down.
Our state motto, "Ad Astra Per Aspera" — to the stars through difficulties — is so appropriate today. We’re more determined than ever before to face challenges and encourage business success, and in turn foster healthier communities and a stronger state.
David Toland, a native of Iola and seventh-generation Kansan, is secretary of commerce for the Kelly administration.