hose charged with marketing their states based on their business climates will usually cite job growth statistics, capital investment projects and other measures. Kansas has the hardware in its trophy case to prove its business case.
In March 2022, Governor Laura Kelly was presented with Site Selection’s prestigious Governor’s Cup for the most qualifying new projects and expansions in the country per capita in 2021.
“My administration has managed our budget wisely in order to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and axe taxes — all while making historic investments in our schools, infrastructure and law enforcement.”
— Governor Laura Kelly
Kansas’ 139 projects launched the Sunflower State to first place from 10th place the previous year. In an interview with Site Selection, Gov. Kelly explained how Kansas did it: “We developed the first real economic development strategic plan that Kansas has seen in 30 years, called the Framework for Growth. We tried to figure out what Kansas has, what we need and what we can do to grow. It helps focus us on the kinds of things that build on our strengths. We’re focused on logistics and distribution, food processing and advanced manufacturing.
“We have a bioscience corridor we are investing in,” she added. “Kansas is also seeing success with wind energy. We figured out what our assets were and how to build on them, rather than competing for things that were never going to come here. We’re not Silicon Valley or New York City. Focusing on our strengths has worked, and we’re being recognized for it.”
Site Selection also recognized Kansas in May as having the strongest state-level economic development organization in the seven-state West North Central region, as was the case the previous year.
Then in June, Kansas won Area Development magazine’s 2022 Gold Shovel Award, marking the second year in a row the state received this national recognition for excellence in economic development. The governor outlined in a statement some of the factors behind its second consecutive win: “Our track record of fully funding schools, investing in infrastructure and expanding broadband access has resulted in more businesses choosing to call Kansas home.”
Kansas State Capitol located in Topeka.
Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Commerce
The Gold Shovel Award annual award is given to states that attract high-value investment projects that create a significant number of new jobs in their communities. At the time, the governor’s office noted that since the start of Governor Kelly’s administration, Kansas has received nearly $8.8 billion in new business investments, created and retained nearly 43,000 jobs and welcomed 645 new economic development projects.
“Under Governor Kelly’s leadership, the Kansas economy has transformed into one of the most dominant states for economic development,” noted Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland. “Our aggressive approach to bringing new, quality jobs and investment to the state has led to back-to-back years of record-breaking success. As a result, the world is taking notice.”
In July, CNBC released its ranking of America’s Top States for Business in 2022. It’s based on 88 metrics in 10 categories of competitiveness. Kansas ranked sixth nationally in two of those categories — Infrastructure and Cost of Doing Business.
“In recent years Kansas has been racking up the awards in economic development,” notes Vicki Horton, managing partner of Evergreen Location Strategies, LLC. “As a national site selector, I have worked with the state for many years, and I attribute their recent success to a focused approach to economic development they have had for a long time. They focus on going to the companies and educating them about what success they could experience by moving or expanding in Kansas vs. waiting for the companies to come to them.
“The state understands what is important to businesses and has been assertive in making changes necessary to create a solid place for businesses to thrive,” Horton observes. “The state is aided by some very strong local and regional partners. A state can only excel by having strong locations within which a company can locate.”
Prioritizing Fiscal Responsibility
A key part of any state’s business climate is the state of its fiscal health. Businesses seek locations where financial soundness and predictability are in place. In November, Gov. Kelly noted that actions taken by her administration in Fiscal Year 2022, including paying down debts and paying cash for projects, have saved Kansans more than $754 million in interest payments.
“By prioritizing fiscal responsibility, we have put Kansas back on track and ready for the road ahead,” she said in a statement. “My administration has managed our budget wisely in order to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and axe taxes — all while making historic investments in our schools, infrastructure and law enforcement.”
In Fiscal Year 2022, the Kelly Administration used the budget surplus to retire debt early and pay for projects with cash rather than through issuing bonds. The Administration says it paid down $1.6 billion in debt, saving $632 million in interest payments, and will pay cash for $203 million of new capital projects, saving Kansans more than $100 million in interest that would have otherwise accumulated through bonds. These savings also include saving Kansans $22.2 million in interest by paying off the nearly $100 million of a $200 million transportation bond that was issued in 2012.
“Utilizing our surplus to pay down this level of debt in one year — while simultaneously building our reserves to record levels — is a transformative event,” noted State Budget Director Adam Proffitt. “This will insulate our budget from potential future economic volatilities, which will provide fiscal stability, allowing us to continue to fund critical services for all Kansans for years to come.”