Kansas: More Than “Just A Great Place To Run Out Of Gas”

From massively talked about talent initiatives, to major business expansions and attractions, Topeka is turning the corner on economic development.

By the BF Staff
From the January/February 2020 Issue

“Topeka, Kansas: A Great Place to Run Out of Gas” was the upbeat, albeit satiric, message of a short video GO Topeka, local economic development organization, directed at Stephen Colbert after the late-night host took a loving jab at the capital city of Kansas and its latest talent initiative, Choose Topeka.

Topeka, KansasColbert joked, “[R]ight now Topeka’s current residents are all drivers who ran out of gas on their way to anywhere else.” A bit of mockery that eluded to new-found attention paid to the hardworking midwestern town.

“The Colbert mention was all in good fun,” said Molly Howey, SVP of Economic Development for GO Topeka, an organization under the Greater Topeka Partnership, the region’s leading economic development agency. “But what people might not realize was that it was spurred on by the massive amount of attention Topeka has received specifically not only from Choose Topeka but from other major economic developments as well.”

From massively talked about talent initiatives, to major business expansions and attractions, Topeka is turning the corner on economic development.

Created by GO Topeka and the Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO), Choose Topeka is a talent recruitment and retention pilot program that will offer matching incentives by partnering with employers to encourage talent to move to Topeka & Shawnee County.

Incentives are performance-based and reimbursed after the employee has moved and resided in the community for a year in a primary residence. The funds may be used for all types of relocation expenses. Incentive amounts can total up to as much as $15,000 per person.

This pilot initiative will provide incentive funds for 40-60 new resident workers during the its initial run. On average, for every $5,000 provided in incentives, the benefit will be ten times that amount to the County’s economy. The economic impact from the total incentives investment after the first year is projected to be over $2.14M and by the fifth year totals over $11M.

The news of this program has garnered global media attention with coverage from CNN, the New York Times, TIME, Forbes, NPR, etc., and globally translated articles. Over 2,000 submissions with resumes or questions along with hundreds of phone calls have been received.

Shortly after the announcement of Choose Topeka, Jimmy John’s Sandwiches partnered with GO Topeka to support Choose Topeka and increase the incentive amount offered by the program.

While Topeka is offering up to $15,000 for those who choose Topeka as their new residence, Jimmy John’s is pledging to give Choose Topeka an additional $1,000 bonus in support of the initiative that can be awarded to any qualifying recipient who moves within one of Jimmy John’s three “sandwich delivery zones” in the city.

“This bonus funding is our way of showing love for the great city of Topeka, supporting a local franchisee, and helping more people get Freaky Fresh® sandwiches delivered to their door,” said John Shea, CMO of Jimmy John’s.

Topeka is was recently chosen as the new site for Walmart’s next distribution center. The arrival of this new distribution center will bring with it an estimated 300 new full-time positions over the next 5 years with competitive salaries plus benefits, which are among the best in the retail industry, creating in the next 10 years a total economic impact of $635M.

This will be the fourth Walmart distribution center in the state of Kansas, with the others located in Ottawa, Edgerton and Kansas City.

Walmart currently employs more than 20,000 associates in Kansas at three distribution centers and more than 80 retail locations.

“With distribution facilities and more than 4,500 stores located within five miles of two-thirds of the U.S. population, Walmart is in a unique position to serve customers quickly and cost-effectively,” said Greg Smith, executive vice president, Walmart U.S. Supply Chain. “Nestled in America’s heartland, this Topeka site is perfectly located and boasts a skilled workforce that will help Walmart better serve its customers in the region. We’re proud to add this site to our strong supply chain network and bring jobs to hard-working Kansans.”

Since 2018, GO Topeka has worked with one of Topeka’s largest employers, Advisors Excel, to aid in their expansion into a new location in the Capital City, securing an incentive package for the project in 2019. The location would house the investment marketing firm’s second campus.

This expansion will bring 220 new full-time jobs over the next five years with an average salary of $52,000 plus benefits, resulting in a one-time economic impact of $12.4M from the capital investment and a total economic impact of $650M over 10 years from the added jobs.

“We’ve called Topeka home for twenty-plus years now,” said Advisors Excel Co-Founder David Callanan. “We live here, raise our families here, and started Advisors Excel here. We’re excited about the future of our business and we are just as excited about the future of our city.”

Construction for Advisors Excel’s second campus is expected to be completed early in 2020.

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