Coming off a record year for economic development despite dealing with a global pandemic and nationwide recession, Kansas Lt. Gov. and Commerce Secretary David Toland says this is no time to become complacent.
Stacked with a prospect pipeline that is as jam-packed as any the state has ever seen, Toland says that the state’s performance for 2021 is on pace to surpass what it accomplished in 2020. For more perspective on this, we interviewed Toland.
What were your biggest project wins of the year?
DAVID TOLAND: Kansas has landed some huge investments since the start of 2020, with successful expansions from both domestic and international firms. After a record-setting year in 2020, this year is on track to easily eclipse 2020. Our project pipeline is bursting with an unprecedented number of prospects.
This dramatic push forward drove a record-setting year for capital investment in 2020: More than $2.5 billion was invested by businesses — the highest amount in our state’s history — with nearly 14,000 jobs created or retained. That momentum has accelerated with Kansas now on track to have another record-setting year in 2021.
What are your top priorities for 2022?
TOLAND: We are on a record-breaking pace for economic development since Gov. Laura Kelly took office, and we remain laser focused on seizing more opportunities for rapid growth. The Kansas Framework for Growth, the Kelly administration’s strategic plan to grow Kansas now and in the future, is guiding us toward more economic development successes across all sectors. We have sound strategies in place to continue supporting the Kansas workforce and aligning talent with industry demand to get more people back to work in good-paying jobs. And we’re working every day to achieve gains in affordable housing; accessible childcare; improved broadband connectivity; and other ways to ensure the outstanding quality of life we need to keep Kansans here, and lure those who left back to our great state.
What has your state done to help businesses recover from the global pandemic and recession?
TOLAND: Faced with unprecedented challenges, it was clear that “business as usual” simply wouldn’t cut it. The team at Commerce moved quickly to innovate and collaborate like never before in supporting Kansas businesses and communities during this difficult time. We immediately rolled out a working capital loan program for the hospitality industry, and a website live chat function to provide individualized support to the thousands of Kansas businesses navigating various state and federal resources available. Upon passage of the federal CARES Act, the state established the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce to distribute relief to small businesses and provide targeted, strategic investments to give Kansas a boost in its economic recovery.
"Now more than ever before, Kansas is focused on attracting new residents and keeping talented graduates.”
— David Toland, Kansas Lt. Gov. and Commerce Secretary
For example, Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars aided nearly 3,000 Kansas small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through nearly $57 million in Small Business Working Capital grants, some of the hardest-hit businesses in the state received vital support when they needed it most. Kansas businesses with fewer than 500 employees were eligible for the grants. Funds were to cover working capital expenses such as payroll, rent, mortgage insurance, utilities, inventory and more.
Also, to mitigate job losses in Kansas from COVID-19, the Kansas Department of Commerce pursued a rapid response training program to provide training, certificate testing, and job placement assistance in the areas of IT, cybersecurity, and IT project management. And the Higher Education Advanced Manufacturing and IT Equipment Grants program was established to support the needs of the advanced manufacturing industry. The program focuses on reskilling/upskilling individuals affected by COVID-19 to meet economic sector needs in high-demand, high-wage occupations.
What is your state’s best-kept secret?
TOLAND: We’re offering the best place in the nation to do business and the best place to live and raise a family. We want folks who grow up in Kansas and those from beyond our borders to embrace our state’s appeal. Now more than ever before, Kansas is focused on attracting new residents and keeping talented graduates. To ensure they all have good places to call home, we’ve placed renewed emphasis on developing livable and workable communities in Kansas. These efforts range from impressive new plans for broadband expansion to the proliferation of Main Street programs and beyond. Quality of life for all our workers — indeed, all our residents — is paramount.
We’re also coordinating efforts statewide to keep our talented students at home, build a strong system to ensure availability of high-demand, skilled workers, and create a business-friendly ecosystem where companies of all sizes can succeed.
As global supply chain disruptions have hit virtually every industry on the planet, how does Kansas’ central U.S. location help businesses compete?
TOLAND: In the wake of the pandemic, many companies, especially those operating overseas, sought more secure supply chains to fortify production and distribution strategies. The state’s Reshoring grants ($5 million) helped offset business disruptions to Kansas companies’ supply chains caused by COVID-19 and assisted with relocating jobs to Kansas from outside of the U.S. Gov. Kelly recently announced the official launch of CONNEX™ Kansas, a new program from Kansas Manufacturing Solutions (KMS) and the Kansas Department of Commerce designed to strengthen the Kansas manufacturing supply chain.
CONNEX™ Kansas is an online manufacturer database and connectivity platform provided as a free resource for Kansas manufacturers. The platform is designed to allow manufacturers in Kansas to connect with each other, find local and domestic suppliers, explore production capabilities and manage their supply chain.
More and more companies are discovering a good fit in Kansas. They know our central location and talented workforce create a prime position to attract companies looking to shore up their supply chains.
Located in the heart of the U.S., whether by highway, rail, or air, Kansas offers excellent transportation and shipping advantages for your business to efficiently move inventory. The focus on building and maintaining an outstanding multimodal infrastructure has made it easier and less expensive to ship from Kansas, where 85% of the United States can be reached in two days or less.
Has your state made any major infrastructure investments in the past year?
TOLAND: Several major infrastructure investments have made a significant impact across Kansas. The Broadband Acceleration Grant program was created in 2020 to bring critically needed broadband access to Kansas communities. Funded through the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program (IKE), the program administered by Commerce’s Office of Broadband Development is making more “last-mile” connections possible across the state. We want every Kansan to have access to the connections they need for telehealth, virtual school and other quality-of-life needs, and for businesses to be able to compete in an increasingly digital-focused economy.
Over the next 10 years, the program seeks to invest $85 million toward bridging the digital divide in Kansas thanks to broadband modernization funding provided through the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program (IKE). As the result of swift legislative action, $5 million will be available annually over the next three years, with $10 million annually made available over the following seven years.
This first year of the 10-year program initiated by Gov. Kelly invests $5 million in grants with another $5 million in matching contributions from the awardees, resulting in a $10 million total investment in the community. This is only the beginning as the Kelly administration is committed to seeing every Kansan connected. Through this initial round of grants, we are laying a strong foundation to build a robust broadband infrastructure for our state.
Another large infrastructure project is the Turner Diagonal Interchange. Its project design reconfigured the interchange, which opened 300 acres for economic development and job creation. The area is seeing immediate economic development. In anticipation of the new interchange, Amazon opened a fulfillment center in 2018, employing nearly 2,000 full-time workers and an additional 1,000 seasonal workers during the holidays. NorthPoint Development is constructing the $155 million Turner Logistics Center Industrial Park expected to generate an estimated 2,500 new jobs, primarily in manufacturing and warehousing.
What is Kansas doing to promote innovation and entrepreneurship?
TOLAND: In June we launched the Office of Innovation and named Trent Armbrust our new Chief Strategy Officer to lead that office and the implementation of our Framework for Growth. The Framework – Kansas’ first economic development plan in more than 30 years – features four pillars, and one is innovation. Driving innovation into our economy is important in attracting business and people to Kansas. We also launched The Kansas Innovation and Technology Enterprise (KITE) to cultivate and support innovation in Kansas. Through KITE, companies with advanced, innovative technology can find resources to help them expand, creating additional revenue and new jobs in Kansas. KITE programs are designed to further research, spur commercialization and assist entrepreneurs in raising funds to expand their businesses.