The labor pool for the aviation, healthcare, and advanced materials industries in South Central Kansas will soon benefit from the federal WIRED initiative.
The prospects for the aviation and healthcare industries in Kansas went from good to better in December 2007, when Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco formally unveiled the South Central Kansas Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative.
“The U.S. Department of Labor’s WIRED grants are extremely competitive with only 36 total grants being awarded through three cycles,” says Kansas Department of Commerce (KDOC) Secretary David Kerr. “The fact that Kansas has been the recipient of two is quite remarkable.”
The goal of the WIRED initiative is to accelerate economic growth in South Central Kansas through innovation and workforce development within the aircraft and healthcare industries—as well as the advanced materials and polymers sectors, which are becoming increasingly critical to aviation, healthcare, and other technology-based industries. The initiative is funded by a $5 million grant awarded to Kansas in June by the U.S. Department of Labor. South Central Kansas was among 13 regions nationally that were awarded funding in the Department of Labor’s third round of WIRED awards. All third-round recipients received the same $5 million, three-year package.
“South Central Kansas is home to the world’s premier aviation manufacturing cluster and currently has the highest concentration of aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturing skills in the nation,” says Gov. Sebelius. “This WIRED initiative will allow the region to further develop its aviation industry and remain an industry leader for years to come.”
The South Central Kansas WIRED grant is Kansas’ second award in the first three WIRED rounds. In February 2006, the Greater Metro Kansas City Area was awarded $15 million in the Department of Labor’s first round to address the region’s bioscience, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing workforce needs. Between the two grants, Kansas is now the only state in the nation to have all of its local workforce investment areas involved in a WIRED project.
Help for Rural Kansas
Also in December, KDOC announced two new loan programs to help agriculture producers who are developing agritourism operations or transitioning to non-traditional crop or livestock production. The two loan programs—the Agritourism Attraction Development Loan Program and the Diversified Farm and Specialty Production Loan Program—are designed to encourage diversification among Kansas rural producers, who are increasingly incorporating non-traditional activities and production lines into their traditional operations as a way to generate additional income.
One month after the announcement of the loan programs, KDOC made another stride toward assisting rural communities attract and grow business when it unveiled the Office of Rural Opportunity (ORO). The announcement was made at Sterling College in Sterling, KS, which has volunteered office space, faculty assistance, and other resources to the new entity. Other offices, including the Kansas Small Business Development Center, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, and Network Kansas, will work closely with the ORO.
The creation of the office was suggested by Gov. Sebelius’ Rural Life Task Force in 2006. The governor endorsed the plan as part of her 2007 Rural Initiative, and the ORO was created by the 2007 Kansas Legislature. The ORO is designed to be a contact point for rural communities to develop strategic plans to attract businesses, workers, and investment. The ORO is currently operating solely out of Sterling College but will soon include offices at Colby Community College, Neosho County Community College, and a yet-to-be-determined location in southwest Kansas, with a regional representative assigned to each location. The colleges have all volunteered office space and other resources to the new entity, which has kept start-up costs to a minimum.