here won’t be any resting on laurels if Kansas Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland has anything to do with it.
Coming off three record-setting years of economic development performance, from 2021 through 2023, the leader of the Kansas Department of Commerce knows that past success is no guarantee of future rewards.
That is why the Commerce Department will continue to push the envelope when it comes to outworking the opposition, says Toland. In the following interview, he explains how.
What were the three biggest economic development project wins of 2023 for Kansas?
TOLAND: As of the date of this interview, our Top 3 in 2023 reflect the diversity in economic development successes throughout our state.
Walmart announced plans for a $257 million investment in a beef packaging facility in Olathe with nearly 700 new jobs.
High Plains Ponderosa Dairy, LLC, has a $168 million investment in the works in Plains (95 jobs).
Camso Manufacturing is investing $114 million in an agricultural track manufacturing facility in Junction City (193 jobs retained, 181 new jobs).
There are bigger project wins such as EMP Shield and Integra Technologies ($1.9 billion and $1.8 billion respectively), but those will not be finalized until the federal government approves their CHIPS Act funding proposals.
What will be the three biggest priorities for the Kansas Department of Commerce in 2024?
TOLAND: We’re extremely proud of the record-breaking economic development success that’s taken place since Governor Kelly took office. Since then, Kansas has logged more than 1,000 new economic development projects generating more than $18 billion in capital investment and over 65,000 new or retained jobs.
Even as we ride this unprecedented wave, we won’t be complacent. In 2024, we will continue to:
When companies choose to invest in Kansas, it’s just the start of a mutually beneficial relationship. Our team, the State of Kansas and our community partners will continue to support those companies for years to come, making sure they have the tools and resources necessary to thrive in 2024 — and beyond.
“When companies choose to invest in Kansas, it’s just the start of a mutually beneficial relationship.”
— Kansas Lieutenant Governor David Toland
What lessons did Kansas learn from the Panasonic and Integra wins that can be applied to corporate recruitment moving forward?
TOLAND: As impressive as they were, our first two megaprojects in Panasonic and Integra didn’t signal the culmination of our economic development efforts. Just the opposite. While those successes did prove we are all-in when it comes to powerful economic development initiatives, we also consider the projects to be strong first steps, and critical building blocks, when it comes to building a truly future-proof economy in Kansas. We take a holistic approach to economic development, knowing it takes partnerships at all levels to succeed. We had local communities, state agencies, utility partners, higher education institutions, workforce groups and local economic development organizations at the table early on with both megaprojects.
The megaprojects also reflected our comprehensive approach in recruiting from the outside — as with Panasonic — while also looking to existing Kansas companies interested in growing here — as with Integra. With competition fierce in both situations, the two megaprojects and overall record-setting growth in Kansas prove our state has unique appeal to companies and projects of all sizes.
What are you doing to encourage talent retention and attraction in Kansas?
TOLAND: Job and career opportunities are growing exponentially as more and more companies locate to Kansas or expand their operations in our state. We’re working on numerous fronts to fortify talent retention and attraction.
The new Office of Registered Apprenticeship is equipping students with skills and on-the-job training they need to achieve successful careers and further develop the state’s workforce. We will continue to invest in apprenticeships, covering opportunities ranging from teaching to skilled trades as we help more people get good jobs and contribute to the economy.
In one year since the Office of Registered Apprenticeship was created, Kansas has seen a nearly 40% increase in registered apprenticeships. As Kansas continues to attract and create jobs by the thousands, registered apprenticeships are helping to fill our state’s most in-demand and high-wage occupations. Governor Kelly’s decision to establish the Kansas Office of Registered Apprenticeship is paying great dividends across the state.
This past legislative session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle approved a $2 million investment in a talent recruitment campaign. Currently, Kansas exports thousands of graduates from our universities, community colleges and technical schools to other states every year. Our campaign will target those who left to pursue careers that weren’t available in Kansas. Now that we’re attracting so many high-tech companies to invest in our state, we now can legitimately attract these former Kansans back. The campaign will launch in early 2024.
Workforce development is the biggest challenge facing most high-tech employers today in America. How is Kansas addressing that?
TOLAND: As Kansas continues to attract transformative economic development projects, our state’s talent pipeline has to have the best possible training to build out skillsets needed in these targeted sectors. We work closely with partners at universities, community colleges and technical schools to meet the education/workforce needs of private sector employers.
Earlier this year, nearly $10 million was awarded to 26 recipients for training and workforce development initiatives in high-demand, high-wage industries. Applicants to our new Delivering Residents and Workforce (DRAW) program requested investments in a wide array of areas, such as mobile workforce training providers, healthcare providers, education providers, technology-based businesses and employers working with disabled persons. Additional applications were accepted by employers hiring high-demand and high-wage positions, such as accountants, welders, sales managers and computer systems analysts.
To meet manufacturers’ needs, our Career Technical Education program has the state covering costs for high school students who want to participate in technical training opportunities. We also have the University Engineering Initiative, with the state providing matching funds to our top three universities to increase the number of students pursuing engineering degrees. These powerful programs have helped create a strong pipeline of workers for businesses in Kansas.
A lot of folks don’t know that Kansas is a major manufacturing state. What can you share with them to change their mind?
TOLAND: Whether it’s Panasonic Energy’s $4 billion plan to build one of the nation’s largest electric vehicle battery manufacturing facilities in De Soto — the biggest economic development project in our state’s history — or the many other announcements made during our record-setting surge, there’s a common thread. All manufacturing operations across the board understandably are embracing our excellent workforce, effective business incentives, central location and outstanding quality of life for their employees.
While our agriculture strength is known worldwide, we are seeing the most significant economic growth in other industries, including advanced manufacturing. This trend is in large part due to corporate investments in aviation manufacturing and design, automotive production, semiconductors and EV battery production.
Kansas is on track to have higher five-year employment growth than peer states and the nation as a whole in all major advanced manufacturing subsectors: aerospace, distribution, transportation and e-commerce, food and agriculture. Some of the finest products in the world are made right here in Kansas, and our recently launched Made in Kansas program is showcasing these manufacturers to customers worldwide. The Kansas economy is booming in part because we have so many innovative manufacturing enterprises in our state.
What is your best two-minute pitch to a CEO in another state about why they should expand in Kansas?
TOLAND: We’re not messing around here in Kansas. We’re a competitive force in economic development, thanks to our highly skilled workforce, central location, solid infrastructure, great schools, superior quality-of-life amenities and other advantages. We’ve also strengthened our incentive toolkit to make our state even more appealing to your business.
Naturally, your company wants to know where the talent you need will come from, and we work to closely align the strengths of our higher education system with what businesses need. In Kansas, educational partnerships are invaluable and plentiful. We are ready to tailor these education and training resources to meet your needs. We do not believe in cookie-cutter solutions.
Our modern, visionary approach to economic development is working. Kansas is on a roll, with our trophy case showcasing two straight Governor’s Cups for the most private investment per capita in the nation, and three consecutive Gold Shovels for attracting high-value investment projects that create a significant number of new jobs in the state. Companies are flocking to our state and bringing new investment and new jobs with them.
Kansas is at the top of its game, and we aren’t slowing down. When we talk about Kansas being the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family, we know it is possible because of great companies like yours driving success in our communities. Let’s discuss how you can move your business forward in Kansas.