The Kansas economy hasn't ever recovered from the 2007-09 recession, said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Patty Clark in Hays on Tuesday.
“We’re flatlining,” Clark said, speaking at a town hall meeting aimed at getting public input on how to fix the stagnant Kansas economy.
“A part of the reason we’re flatlining is everything is ad hoc at this point; we’re sort-of-kind-of doing this, and sort-of-kind-of doing that, and we’re chasing this and chasing that,” said Clark, speaking to about 20 people attending the presentation and discussion.
“What we need and must have at this point for our state,” Clark said, “is a focused, sustained investment in economic development that creates partnerships with businesses, creates partnerships with communities for vibrancy, and creates partnerships with universities that are one of our strengths, and our education systems, and creates partnerships within state government in terms of how we operate with our collaborative partners.”
The town hall was one of many being convened statewide by the Commerce Department to figure out a plan for prosperity.
“I think we’re compelled to act,” said Clark, citing the problem of outmigration to Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, and a mismatch between talent and job availability in Kansas, among other problems.
“It’s a compelling case,” she said, explaining that discussions like the one Tuesday in Hays help state officials, and the consultants they’ve hired, to craft an economic development plan for the future.
It’s been more than 30 years since the last comprehensive plan for building the Kansas economy, the Redwood-Krider report, which Clark said was cutting-edge for its time.
To create the plan, the state this summer hired worldwide management consulting firm New York-based McKinsey and Co., working with Washington, D.C.-based think tank The Brookings Institution.
On Tuesday evening, Clark and Brookings senior fellow Marek Gootman said discussions like the one in Hays are what it takes to build the plan.
The Hays meeting, which raised discussion on topics like what is the definition of “rural," the lack of rural transportation, how communities retain talent, how to maintain rural life, the fragmentation of economic development efforts and if Main Street investment is affordable.
Many more town halls are scheduled as part of the process, which started in 2018 with discussions by economic development directors from around the state.
“There’s a place for everyone in this,” Clark said. “No region is going to be left out.”
She hopes to have a draft report by the end of December for an internal working document. From that, Clark said she’ll take what she called the rural playbook out “to as many regions of the state as will have us” for feedback from January to May.
A final version could be ready by late spring or summer, she said.
And implementation of the new plan?
“That’s longer term,” Clark said. “If you think about the Redwood-Krider report, it was issued in 1986 and it hit its stride in the early '90s. I don’t think it’ll take that long, but that just gives you a benchmark of how long it takes to implement something of this scale.”
The price tag isn’t known at this point either, she acknowledged.
The process started this fall with a lot of quantitative and qualitative research by Brookings and McKinsey for a baseline of where Kansas stands.
From there, the plan is to get private and public participation to take the findings and challenges, then create strategies, tactics and initiatives for revival, Gootman said.
The researchers have looked at the economic performance of Kansas compared to other states, looked at macroeconomic data and are collecting input from seven regional workshops with 250 participants and counting, experts, businesses, universities, associations, economic development practitioners and surveys of the public to gather diverse perspectives, Gootman said.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Clark said. “We’re not even close to the finish line.”
In looking at the trend lines for Kansas compared to the other states, including GDP growth and average wages, Gootman told the audience that “Kansas’s performance in 2008, was higher than one would expect relative to all other states, and post-recession has declined and is not recovering in a lot of key indicators.”
The most concerning one is the average wage rank, which has declined dramatically, he said. Challenges include unemployment growth, acute issues in rural Kansas, low retention of college graduates, outmigration, quality of jobs, low business dynamism, lower-than-average startups, low levels of commercialization of innovation and job displacement through automation.
“Even in areas of significant strength, like manufacturing,” Gootman said, “Kansas’s growth rate and its employment growth rate, relative to the United States, even in a period of declining overall manufacturing, is lower than U.S. standard.”
More discussions like the one Tuesday evening are needed, Clark said.
“It won’t be the last time we’re in Hays, it won’t be the last time we go to Russell, it won’t be the last time we go to Liberal or Garden City,” she said. “This is really important to Kansas.”
Anyone wishing to contribute ideas or comments to the governor’s “Framework for Growth” discussion, can answer the state’s stakeholder survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MLVNQHL.