2019 Year-in-Review

Jan 03, 2020

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2019 was truly an extraordinary year. Last January, I began my time as Secretary with several goals for the Department of Commerce and for economic development in Kansas.

In today’s blog, I’d like to look back at the past year and reflect on the four main priorities we’ve had for the Department since Governor Kelly was inaugurated last year.

It has been a busy year of internal reforms, relaunched programs and external engagement with the business community and Kansans of all stripes. The progress made over the past year has been exciting, and it’s part of the reason CNBC named Kansas “The Comeback State of 2019!”

Here’s a look back at 2019:

Restoring Relationships

When I was at Dighton Buzz earlier this year, an 11-year-old boy named Charlie asked me if I do anything but travel around the state and talk to people. It was a good question.

I do a lot of things, but one of the most important things I do is get out and visit people and places across Kansas, including some that haven’t been visited in far too long. I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel our state and connect with business and community leaders who work every day to make our state a better place to live, learn and work.

Our state is geographically large and economically-diverse, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for growth. Instead, it requires deep engagement with communities all across Kansas in order to identify opportunities, address challenges and breathe new life into our state. It is critical that we continue showing up across the state and listening to Kansans.

By traveling the state and establishing relationships in communities large and small, it is my hope that Kansans will see a willing and engaged partner in the Department of Commerce. In 2020, we’ll remain focused on restoring relationships with the business community, economic development professionals, educational institutions, community organizations, the Kansas Legislature and the public.

We hope to connect with individuals, businesses and communities looking to elevate their impact and grow for the future. Through these networks and partnerships, we as Kansans can support our shared goals and—together—build more vibrant communities.

On my Twitter account this week, I’ve been looking back at some of the trips I’ve taken using the hashtag #TolandTravels2019. You can take a look at some of the highlights and let me know if you were able to attend any of the events from 2019. It’s been such a joy to travel the state, and I’m grateful to all the Kansans I had the opportunity to meet last year. I look forward to continuing this into the New Year and beyond!

Increasing Transparency

Another key priority has been the effort to make clear what we do, how we do it and why we do it. The people of our state, our business community and the Legislature deserve nothing less. This is important for the effectiveness of our programs as well as our accountability to the people of Kansas.

Businesses must understand what resources Commerce has and how to utilize them. We have begun the process of simplifying our marketing and amplifying the opportunities we have available. This includes updated program break-downs and graphical elements to help explain some of our often-complex programs. In addition, we’ve been working to increase access to many Commerce programs through online applications and digital forms. Stay tuned throughout 2020 for announcements on the forms that are going online this year!

Another important aspect of transparency is increasing our accountability to the public, especially when it comes to the use of public dollars. Our goal is to help Kansans and the Legislature understand more about economic development in general, in terms of how it works and what the impacts are of the programs we administer. The process of evaluating the performance of our incentive tools has already begun, and we’ll be working to share more of that information with the public throughout the year.

We recently launched an online database that tracks information on Commerce programs and impacts. Economic development and transparency can and must work hand-in-hand. Kansans deserve to know how their public dollars are being spent, and our agency is committed to working with the Legislature to increase transparency and provide information on outcomes. Today’s version is just the start; in the coming months and years, we will be working to provide more data and focused effort on assessing the return on investment of our state’s tools for growth.

Returning to Core Business

2019 was about getting back to the basics on business development and community development. These are truly the core of what we do as an agency, and all of this activity plays a role in growing our state.

On business development, we have been working to elevate the support we offer to the Kansas business community as well as increase our capacity on business recruitment, both domestically and internationally. We lowered the fee to access the Angel Investor Tax Credit and, through NetWork Kansas, we have partnered with entrepreneurs and anchor investors all across the state to increase access to capital and help more business get a strong start and grow right here in our state. In addition, our agency partnered with the Secretary of State and other areas of state government to support the Kansas Business One Stop, which is a single point-of-service website that provides resources to business owners and start-ups in Kansas.

When it comes to recruiting more businesses to Kansas, we have been working to rebuild our team around the country and across the globe. 2019 was a busy year of restructuring and bringing on new personnel who will help our state reengage and reestablish our footprint, especially internationally. In terms of overseas engagement, I was honored to represent Kansas on two separate trade missions last year. In June, I traveled with Governor Kelly to the world-renowned Paris Air Show, and in September, I joined members of our International Trade and Investment team on a visit with partners in our state’s 3rd largest export market, Japan.

Whether it’s helping Kansas companies reach new markets for their exports or engaging in trade missions and other activities that help attract new business investment, our team has been on the move, and this effort will continue in 2020.

On community development, we have refocused our efforts to support the quality of life in our state. This is critical to attracting the workforce that businesses need and keeping our communities and local economies strong and vibrant. In 2019, community revitalization efforts took several big steps forward. This includes investments in health care and recreation through the use of Community Service Tax Credits and Community Development Block Grant funds as well as the relaunch of the popular Kansas Main Street program. Another component to community vitality is engagement with arts and culture. In the past year, we’ve utilized the restored funding to the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission to help elevate the arts in our state.

Shaping the Future

The last time the state of Kansas established a comprehensive plan for economic development was in 1986, with the Redwood-Krider report. This report led to many innovations and helped establish new tools for growth, and it’s been guiding our state’s economic development efforts since its inception.

In 2019, we set forth on a new effort to evaluate our economic challenges and opportunities and establish a new strategic plan for economic development in Kansas. The Framework for Growth will guide the next several years of economic development activity, including support for key industries and economic activities and alignment of our economic development tools with key outcomes for growth in the Kansas economy.

From the start, we’ve been very deliberate in engaging businesses and community partners in this process. So far, more than 1,000 Kansans have engaged through the business council, regional and individual stakeholder meetings, public Town Halls and the online survey on kansasgrowth.com. The process to engage more Kansans will continue into 2020 as we further evaluate and set priorities on how we move forward together. We hope you’ll engage with us in shaping the future we want for our state.

Broad participation and buy-in will help create lasting and sustainable momentum around a true Kansas plan for growth. Just as Redwood-Krider guided economic development policy from both Republican and Democratic administrations through the decades, a successful Framework for Growth will transcend politics and serve as a “North Star” for our state’s growth for years to come.

It has been an honor to serve my home state as Secretary of Commerce throughout the past year, and I look forward to another year of growth and progress here in the Sunflower State.

Ad Astra Per Aspera and onward to 2020!

-DT