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Kansas reveals first economic development plan in 30 years, shifts focus to innovation

March 04, 2021
By: Laura Lacy Graham

Last month, Gov. Laura Kelly (D), alongside former state governors Mike Hayden (R) and John Carlin (D), and the Lt. Gov. and Secretary of Commerce David Toland, announced “Framework for Growth”, the state’s first economic development plan in over 30 years. The plan, which was a year in the making, is a collaborative effort that involves input from over 2,000 Kansans, the staff of the Department of Commerce, and two former governors.

Carlin is credited with developing an overarching economic plan for the state in 1986, with Hayden’s Republican administration assuming responsibility for implementing many of its ideas.

The new 37-page plan acknowledges those efforts, many of which focused on the agricultural sector with a push toward biotechnology innovation — initiatives that were altered or dismantled by Kelly’s predecessor, Gov. Sam Brownback. The new plan focuses on four pillars: talent, innovation, community assets, and policy in areas of advanced manufacturing, aerospace, distribution, and agriculture as well as professional and technical services. During a press conference that announced the plan, Kelly said, “the Framework for Growth is a bold plan to address current and future trends in our state, while we continue to promote job growth and new capital investment in communities of every size all across Kansas.”

The Framework for Growth plan also focuses on promoting innovation, including the attraction and retention of new technologies and their associated companies — something Toland said the state had neglected for too long. The plan’s priority initiatives and investments for its talent and innovation pillars include: establishing new partnerships to modernize the state’s approach to workforce development and to create synergy between education and economic systems (Kansas Talent Enterprise program); launching a comprehensive, rapid-response workforce development program that provides new or expanding employers and businesses with flexible and/or customized training (Quick Work Kansas); accelerating innovation initiatives that would focus state investment into R&D and commercialize emerging or niche technologies, which can “future-proof” Kansas’ economy, such as the Kansas Competitiveness Project, along with implementing a robust and targeted corporate recruitment effort that supports, stabilizes, and repositions the state’s economy (the Elevate Kansas Corporate Recruiting Campaign); and creating a new statewide Innovation Network to provide resources for entrepreneurs, investor services, and coordinated match-making. As for the plan’s community assets and policy pillars priorities, it calls for a coordinated Office of Broadband Development; providing targeted support to regional partners and airports to promote the recovery of passenger traffic and activities; directing state resources to economic regions that seek to improve the attractiveness and readiness of sites and buildings that can support economic development; and, modernizing the state’s incentive programs by enabling consistent and stable multi-year funding streams and providing transparency about incentives awarded through maintaining and updating a state database.

While most of the plan concentrates on the realignment of the state’s resources and will not require legislative approval, the administration, according to Toland, is keen on using it as a framework for developing tax credits or other incentives-related measures that would focus on attracting businesses and/or headquarters, rural remote workers and small businesses.

Former Gov. Mike Hayden, speaking to the Lawrence Journal-World, emphasized the need for bipartisan support for the plan, said he hopes the plan outlasts the Kelly administration. "This plan does not belong to one administration; it is the Kansas plan for growth. As former governors, John and I are proud to join with the current governor in making the case for this shared vision," he said.

Kansaseconomic development, innovation, workforce, governors