By Anne Cosgrove
From the September/October 2022 Issue
The Sunflower State is seeing a resurgence of business investment, workforce training, and quality of life. Looking at Governor Laura Kelly’s actions since she took office in January 2019, it’s apparent that there is a plan in motion— “Kansas Framework for Growth.” Enacted by Governor Kelly, this widespread initiative impacts a wide swath of the Kansas economy from corporate investment to workforce to social concerns, such as child care and housing.
Meanwhile, the location and infrastructure of the state offers significant transportation and marketing advantages for business. Due to a focus on building and maintaining multimodal infrastructure, it’s become easier and less expensive to ship to and from Kansas.
With workforce top of mind for all industries, the state’s investments in education and workforce development help ensure there are skilled employees available. Kansas comes in above the national average for both percentage of high school graduates and population with a bachelor’s degree or higher. With outstanding schools and good partnerships between industry and education, Kansas businesses have access to a workforce that is prepared to meet the needs of companies in a highly competitive global economy.
Business Facilities recently spoke with Governor Kelly about the latest for business and citizens in Kansas.
Business Facilities: In June you announced that since 2019 Kansas has attracted over $9 billion in new investment from the private sector and that more than 43,500 jobs had been created or retained in the state. What is driving this activity?
Gov. Kelly: In July, I announced that Kansas landed the largest private sector investment in state history. Panasonic will be building one of the country’s largest electric vehicle battery facilities, investing $4 billion and creating 4,000 new jobs in the process.
With that announcement, my Administration has overseen the creation of more than 49,000 new jobs and brought in $13.5 billion of new private investment, surpassing the total investment brought in by the previous two administrations combined.
Our intense focus on job creation and business investment has put Kansas on the map.
There are several reasons we’ve seen tremendous success with regard to economic development. For one, we have an actual plan. At the start of 2021, I unveiled a new comprehensive economic development strategic plan for the state of Kansas, the first of its kind in more than 30 years. Called the “Framework for Growth,” it pinpoints areas of strength and emerging opportunities for our state that has informed our business recruitment efforts ever since.
For another, we know that creating a good quality of life for Kansas families and young adults is essential to fostering the skilled workforce needed to recruit and retain businesses. We’ve continued to make historic investments in education, public safety, infrastructure, and broadband access—leading to more businesses choosing to call Kansas home.
BF: What are target industries for Kansas? What companies have chosen the state for their business recently?
Gov. Kelly: The Framework for Growth created a roadmap for furthering developing several key Kansas industries including aviation, agriculture, biotechnology, and animal health.
Kansas’s reputation as the ‘Air Capital of the World’ was solidified in April when I announced that Wichita is now home to the Bombardier U.S. headquarters. The company is actively recruiting to immediately fill more than 180 jobs in Wichita and close to 500 jobs across the U.S.
When it comes to agriculture, we are recruiting businesses that will keep our industry modern and innovative. In May, I announced that Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc. will build a major production facility in Dodge City, a $460 million investment that will create 247 new full-time jobs in Western Kansas. In August, sustainable agriculture leader Amber Wave cut the ribbon on what will soon be the largest wheat protein production facility in North America. The company is investing more than $250 million into the facility and creating more than 60 new jobs as it ramps up to full capacity.
Our biotech industry is growing, too. In April, I announced that Scorpion Biological Services will be building a $650 million manufacturing facility in Manhattan and creating 500 jobs. That’s in addition to the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a biocontainment laboratory, which will be opening its doors in Manhattan soon.
Finally, Kansas is the heart of the animal health corridor, and this past month Simmons Pet Food announced that they are expanding operations in both Emporia and Edgerton. Their $115 million investment will create 117 jobs — fueling growth in both of those communities and the region.
These industries are all seeing growth for similar reasons: Kansas’ central location, strong infrastructure, and outstanding workforce makes our state the best place in the nation to build, hire, and invest.
BF: The APEX Act signed into law in February 2022 focuses on megaprojects by new and expanding companies in the state. Can you provide a brief overview of the incentive?
Gov. Kelly: As the largest private investment in Kansas history and one of the largest electric vehicle battery manufacturing plants of its kind in the country, Panasonic Energy’s planned De Soto facility will be transformative for our state’s economy. The project will directly create 4,000 jobs, another 4,000 will be created by local suppliers, and building the plant will create 16,500 construction jobs.
Winning this project has shown that Kansas has what it takes to compete on a global scale—and that our pro-business climate is driving the technological innovation needed to achieve a more prosperous and sustainable future.
One of the tools we used to recruit Panasonic to Kansas was passing the bipartisan Attracting Powerful Economic Expansion Act (APEX), which I signed into law earlier this year. APEX offered incentives for Panasonic to invest here, but unlike other states’ incentive packages, these tax credits and rebates will only be paid after Panasonic has made investments and hired workers. It’s estimated that every $1 of Kansas APEX incentives will generate over $26 of private investment.
BF: What other incentives or programs are being emphasized to encourage business attraction and retention throughout the state?
Gov. Kelly: We are working hard to recruit and retain the skilled workforce Kansas needs to compete at a global level. Two of the main ways we are doing this are expanding child care and affordable housing.
This year, I signed a bipartisan bill expanding tax credits for businesses that provide child care to employees, and I announced that my administration is giving a total of $53 million to eligible child care staff at licensed facilities as a reward for their incredibly essential, hard work.
To reduce the price of housing, I have worked to secure over $90 million in funding for housing throughout the state and $100 million in tax incentives for communities to invest in diversifying and rehabilitating housing stock.
BF: What is a key issue facing the state in terms of business development? What else would you like business leaders and site selectors to know about doing business in the Sunflower State?
Gov. Kelly: We are in a new era of growth here in Kansas. In June, Kansas hit an all-time low unemployment rate. This comes with challenges, as it is more difficult for businesses to find workers than it would be if the unemployment rate were higher. But we are working to address that by upskilling workers here in the state, attracting out-of-state workers, and knocking down the barriers that prevent people from entering the labor force.
I believe our approach to workforce development is indicative of why businesses are coming to Kansas right now—My administration listens to business owners’ needs, finds solutions to pertinent issues, and creates a stable, welcoming economic landscape for people to succeed. It’s as simple as that.