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Traveling with Toland: Southwest Kansas

May 22, 2019

Traveling with Toland: Southwest Kansas

Southwest Kansas 

On May 20-21st, Secretary David Toland traveled around Southwest Kansas to connect with business leaders, elected officials and economic development professionals. During the trip, he visited Scott City, Garden City, Lakin and Liberal. Each stop featured a different business, economic or community development success story for the region and the state. From successful businesses to various quality of life improvements—such as housing, education, transportation, health care and recreation—there is clearly a lot going on in Southwest Kansas!  

Learn more about Secretary Toland’s Southwest Kansas trip below: 


Kansas Commerce Secretary, David Toland, listens to Nu Life representatives about processing techniques.

“If you can solve a problem, you can create a business.” -Earl Roemer, President at Nu Life Market The first stop was at Nu Life Market LLC, a company in Scott City that thrives through cutting edge innovation in the field of agriculture. Their ability to utilize sorghum grain (or milo) to create value-added, in-demand products has made them a leader in several emerging markets and also creates more opportunities for Kansas farmers to grow this popular, low water-use crop and sell that product closer to home. “Producers want to plant sorghum, but we need markets to sell to,” added State Representative—and Kansas farmer—Don Hineman, who joined the Secretary for the Scott City tours. “This company is working on that,” said Hineman. The food and milling science experts at Nu Life Market have utilized sorghum grains to develop high quality gluten-free flour that can be used in a wide array of products that consumers are currently demanding. The products have the additional advantage of being totally non-GMO as well as dairy free, soy free and peanut free. Their extra attention to food safety has allowed their products to be certified safe for consumers with those food allergies, and their innovation has greatly improved the quality and options available for consumers in that market. “The biggest asset here is the people we have brought in to innovate and help this operation grow,” said Roemer. Partnerships with Kansas research institutions have also helped, through grants and other funding for research and development. All those factors together have made Kansas the perfect place for this business to take off. “We’re on the forefront of this, through science and innovation,” Roemer said. Nu Life is currently exporting to 15 different countries and passing along those profits to producers here in Kansas. Their innovative flour is heading to Italy to produce gluten-free pasta for consumers around the world. They also supply product used to produce the popular Chinese liquor, baijiu, and ship huge amounts of their value-added grain to the global beer giant, Heineken. In addition to establishing strong industry connections around the state and globe, the leadership at Nu Life have found Scott City an exceptional environment to start and grow their business. “Buy-in from the community is critical,” said Roemer. The company’s proximity to sorghum producers, coupled with an active economic development presence, has allowed Nu Life to launch and thrive in Scott City. “Special people can make a difference in an industry, it just so happens we have them here,” said Roemer.

Secretary Toland joined Scott County Economic Development Committee Director Katie Eisenhour, Simone Elder of Network Kansas, State Representative Don Hineman and State Senator Mary Jo Taylor to tour several quality of life improvement projects taking place around Scott City. A large focus was placed on housing, including the new developments being built that provide high-quality and affordable housing that will attract more skilled workers to the area and provide a place for young families to put down roots in the community.

USD #466
Jamie Rumford, Superintendent of USD 466, met the delegation at Scott Community High School to discuss the recent $25m bond issue, which has allowed for tremendous physical and functional improvements to the district.

“No industry can succeed without health care.” -Mark Bennett, CEO of Scott City Hospital Scott City Hospital sets a high bar for rural health care. Hospital CEO Mark Bennett works hard to keep it that way. The world-class facilities and outstanding patient services have gone a long way towards keeping this hospital, and this community, healthy and growing. “We set out to build a business that can support the industry and the community around it,” said Bennett during a tour of the facility. Bennett believes a healthy bottom line for the hospital has helped promote and build up the health and well-being of the region. Operating without the use of public funding, Scott City Hospital invests around $13mil annually in Scott County, and they’ve recently announced a $4mil new addition to the hospital which will provide primary care. Scott City Hospital receives patients from 15 different counties, and it’s not hard to see why people from surrounding communities come to Scott City to be treated at this outstanding facility.


Kansas Commerce Secretary, David Toland, addresses a group preparing to tour Liberal, Kans.

State Representative Shannon Francis helped organize a tour of several business and quality of life projects taking place in Liberal. One key takeaway from this community was the large amount of synergy with the local agriculture economy, which helps create jobs and prosperity for the area. The bus tour began at Lyddon Aero Center, where Liberal City Manager Cal Burke discussed the status of the air field and essential air service provided through SkyWest. Burke also showcased the new baseball and soccer fields that are helping to provide recreational space and activities for residents as well as travel and tourism opportunities through the hosting of sporting events and tournaments that bring in out-of-town guests. Renae Hickert, Superintendent of USD 480, joined the bus tour to discuss the growth happening in the school district. She highlighted the results of a recent bond issue as well as the school redesign project. Another key educational institution discussed during the bus tour was Seward County Community College. Staff from SCCC discussed the success of several different programs for industry-aligned workforce training and development as well as targeted success initiatives for first-generation college students. SCCC plays a key role in developing a skilled workforce in Kansas. Representatives from Southwest Medical Center also highlighted the outstanding medical facility that serves Liberal and the surrounding area. The Village at the Plaza Apartments were an outstanding example of the Rural Housing Incentive Districts at work! They also utilized state grant funding to develop housing for individuals at the moderate-income level. Another housing project on the tour was a development specifically for single family housing for the workforce. Each of these projects helps ensure that there is adequate and attractive housing available for individuals and families to live and work in Liberal.

Dean Aragon of National Beef Packing Plant joined the tour to discuss this key employer and industry for Liberal and the region. Cattle are brought in from several states to be processed at the plant, which is a large exporter of beef for the national and international markets, including being the largest exporter of beef to Japan. In addition, the bus drove out to Heifer Source, which raises heifers for dairies across the country. Natural resources were also a large focus. Entrepreneur Rock Ormiston and Tom Willis, owner of T&O Water Technology Farm, discussed the critical importance of the Ogallala Aquifer and the need to wisely managing the region’s water resources. Kansas is quickly becoming a cotton state. The large cotton warehouse the Secretary visited in Liberal was evidence of the huge capacity to produce cotton in Kansas. With four cotton gins in the state, this crop is already taking off. The cotton gin located in nearby Moscow can almost single handedly fill the large warehouse in Liberal. Energy is another significant industry for Southwest Kansas. In Liberal, the Secretary visited a Compressed Natural Gas Station, the KBK Tank Manufacturing facility, and the Conestoga Energy Ethanol Plant.

Kansas Commerce Secretary, David Toland, address the Liberal Chamber of Commerce.

After the tour of Liberal, Secretary Toland traveled to the historic Rock Island Depot for a reception hosted by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce. Many business and community leaders attended and had an opportunity to meet the Secretary, ask questions, and discuss opportunities for future partnership with the Department of Commerce. Establishing relationships is critical to economic development and the successful coordination of local, state, and federal resources to support healthy and growing communities. This trip helped surface ways the Department of Commerce can engage with the Liberal community, including follow-ups to take place with the Location One (LOIS) database for site selectors and also assistance in the search process for a new economic development director for Liberal.

Secretary Toland visited Lakin City Hall to meet with city officials and discuss key economic challenges and successes of the region.

The community of Lakin is bolstered by an outstanding health care facility in Kearny County Hospital. Jack Ayers led a tour of the facility and then community members gathered for a Q/A opportunity in the hospital board room.


Kansas Commerce Secretary David Toland presents the 2019-2021 Community of Excellence award to Lakin, Kans.

Representatives from Lakin PRIDE were on hand at the reception, and Secretary Toland had the opportunity to recognize them as recipients of the 2019 Community of Excellence Award from KansasPRIDE. A strong core of community volunteers has worked to keep this group going and continue to make an impact in Lakin. They clearly see challenges as opportunities and are building for the future!


Secretary Toland began his day in Liberal having coffee with business leaders and elected leaders including: Rep. Russ Jennings, Rep. John Wheeler, and Sen. John Doll.

In Garden City, Secretary Toland joined local leaders and economic development professionals to tour several sites around this bustling community. Great schools and health care, new housing projects, expanded recreational facilities and a wide array of commercial options have allowed for an outstanding quality of life in Garden City. In addition to quality of life projects around the community, Garden City is taking innovative approaches to recruit and encourage industrial growth and create jobs in the region. Transportation and logistics have played a key role in this development, and Garden City’s strength in this area have made it the ideal place to build and scale for manufacturing and shipping across the country and around the world. Secretary Toland saw several of these projects and discussed the status with local leaders and community development professionals. Continuing to expand this supply chain infrastructure and capacity will be key to continued growth throughout Southwest Kansas.

On the Garden City bus tour, Representative John Wheeler observes the KDOT Transload facility.

Driving down Highway 50 along the outskirts of Garden City and looking South towards the Arkansas River, you can now spot roughly 200 acres of turbine blades, tower sections, generators and other wind energy components cued up for transfer within a 500 mile radius of Garden City. The project results from a partnership between Transportation Partners and Logistics (TP&L) and the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), which secured funds to establish a transload facility for the region. This key piece of infrastructure will improve supply chains for area companies and industries to either import raw materials or export finished products to the market. The facility currently specializes in loading, offloading, maintenance and storage of components for wind energy, but the possibilities will continue to grow and change based on the needs of the market, rail capacity through BSNF and the landscape of the regional economy. And, perhaps most importantly, the facility will continue to attract and create good jobs for Garden City and Southwest Kansas.

Value-added agriculture is another key industry for Southwest Kansas. Combined with outstanding infrastructure for transportation and logistics, this industry opens up additional markets for area producers and also creates jobs for Kansans to process these value-added goods and help them reach their final destination, the consumer. The DFA processing plant in Garden City is sourced by some of the highest quality milk in the world, from dairies right here in Kansas. At the plant, it is processed into non-perishable, powdered milk that ships all across the globe. Only the highest quality milk can be utilized in this dehydration process, higher than the standards used in cheese production, so this makes the Garden City facility ideal for producers and consumers up and down the supply chain.

Kansas Commerce Secretary, David Toland, reviews the blue prints for a STAR Bond project in Garden City.

Cecil O’Brate, principal developer, reviewed the plans and provided a site tour of the new STAR Bond district that was approved in early 2019. The event was held at the brand new Parrot Cove Indoor Water Park, which is adjacent to the new recreational facility constructed as part of the new development district. 

Kansas Commerce Secretary, David Toland, meets with the staff at the Garden City Workforce Center.

Secretary Toland visited the team at the Garden City Workforce Center. The Department of Commerce’s partnership with KansasWorks provides opportunities to help elevate the workforce development efforts taking place in population centers across the state. The team in Garden City works hard to serve that community, and the Secretary was grateful for their time and appreciated the opportunity to get acquainted with them and learn about some of their concerns and suggestions for the future.