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Kansas playing the long game in building economic prosperity

February 10, 2022
By: Ellen Marrison

A “fire breathing economic development initiative” is unfolding at Kansas State University, and if it succeeds, it could add 3,000 jobs and $3 billion in new, outside investment to the state in the next 10 years.

The new initiative is the university’s Economic Prosperity Plan, approved in December by the Kansas Board of Regents, and is in response to the board’s strategic plan that focused on advancing Kansas families, business and the Kansas economy. Each state university was asked to create an economic prosperity program that would align with job creation and direct investment metrics from the regent’s plan. It was in response to that third pillar of the plan that universities were asked to create an intentional economic prosperity program. Kansas State’s plan was approved by the BOR in December.

Calling the initiative a “fire breathing economic development initiative,” Kent Glasscock, president of the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization, or KSU-IC, said the leadership team behind the plan considered how the university could bring in more money from outside the state and create jobs with it. They considered their strengths, how they could build upon those and attract a global interest that would result in outside investment and the creation of jobs within the state.

The plan took more than a year to create, and Glasscock said the team looked at their strengths and what would have the highest value proposition globally. “What are we good at that the world cares enough to send us money that we can create jobs?” he said.

It was a different approach, but not one that is outside the vision of a land grant university, and Kansas State has a long history in that realm being the first land-grant university, founded in 1863, under the Morrill Act of 1862.

The new Kansas State plan centers around four areas of focus:

  • Food and agriculture systems innovation;
  • Digital agriculture and advanced analytics;
  • Biosecurity and biodefense; and,
  • Every Town to Gown, an initiative to enhance the university’s presence in all 105 counties in the state.

Next steps include delineating pathways and strategies for the first two years, Glasscock said. They plan to identify the gaps that could hinder the development of the focus areas, and attract funding to fill the gaps — whether it is facilities or talent, or other areas — to help achieve their goals. They will determine which federal agencies they should be working with, what other universities and technical colleges they should be partnering with, how to attract new companies and connect them with university talent and higher levels of sponsored research.

A pilot program already underway with the Northwest Kansas Technical College and economic development entity there to ramp up an economic prosperity strategy focused on coding and analytics training that is taught at the college. They aim to create an initiative that would market those skill sets to companies around the country as remote workers so that while the individuals would become wage earners of other companies, they could still reside in the rural communities of northwest Kansas with attractive salaries.

Instead of announcing that there is a pot of money available, Glasscock said the plan “is an initiative that allows us to go and get the money.” He says they are playing the long game, but he is excited about the impacts that could be achieved by focusing on the future.

Kansaseconomic development, higher ed, strategic plan