Patty Clark, Deputy Secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce, is a shining example of public service as a noble calling. Patty has been working for the people of Kansas for 23 years, including serving at different times as Ag Marketing Director, Community Development Director and even Deputy Secretary of Commerce once before, under the Sebelius Administration.
Patty is retiring at the end of May, bringing her incredible career in public service to an end. But, before she goes, she took the time to sit down with us and impart a little wisdom to Kansas’ present and future economic developers.
You’ve served the people of Kansas for a long time, and it seems like you’re still as passionate as ever. What is it you find most rewarding about the work you do?
Problem solving when it involves partnerships with colleagues in Commerce and other agencies combined with local community and business leadership. There is no better feeling than when government is responsive to the public, seizes opportunities to improve and innovate and delivers technical and financial assistance in a way that burnishes the reputation of public service and public servants.
With your talents and experience, you could have made a successful career virtually anywhere. Why stick to public service for so long?
Very simply – it is in my DNA.
My father served as a Public Health Officer in the Army in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after WWll. He then returned to northern Illinois to start his medical practice and helped design and implement the massive polio vaccination program for most counties in the region. Polio was contagious, debilitating and deadly – just as COVID-19 is. He also served as chair of my hometown’s Planning and Zoning Commission during an unprecedented period of growth. Both my parents served in leadership on school boards.
Service was an expectation in our family, and my parents modeled it in our daily lives.
Let’s talk about your role at Commerce, specifically. Economic development can be complicated, and there are lots of moving parts. What’s something most people may not know about economic development?
We all need to broaden our definition of what constitutes economic development. It is not just incentive programs and tax breaks. Economic development includes investment in public education, parks and recreation, arts and culture, attractive and affordable housing and infrastructure improvements including investment in broadband.
A great example of a comprehensive economic development strategy is the city of Broomfield located between Boulder and Denver. 22 years ago, the small city of Broomfield was situated within the boundaries of five separate counties. An inclusive group of city leaders petitioned the state to allow Broomfield to become a unified city/county government creating the 64th county in Colorado. Once that goal was achieved, they meticulously designed the planning and zoning in the new city/county of Broomfield to become a vibrant place to live, work and play. They determined that no less than 40% of the land within the new boundaries of Broomfield had to remain as greenspace devoted to trails, parks and recreational facilities. They invested in a new public library, public health services and facilities and built new public schools. Broomfield required developers to design neighborhoods – not just build houses. They ensured their commercial districts were less congested, attractively landscaped and well-kept. Broomfield keeps an eye on water and energy conservation in all public facilities and consistently makes the additional investments to be environmentally friendly. Bike lanes connect the entire city, and they invested heavily in e-government services for the convenience of their citizens. This was a broad, purposeful economic development strategy that grew Broomfield from less than 10,000 residents to over 60,000 with a very high quality of life in 20 years.
You’ve been a fixture of the Sunflower State for many years, and you’ve seen a lot of what Kansas has to offer. What excites you about the future for our state?
The next generation of public servants and public leadership leaves me with a confidence that Kansas can strike the right chord to attract more residents and businesses to Kansas and stop bleeding our best and brightest. I am a Kansan by choice. I found our State to be a progressive environment that encouraged innovation and smart investments, and stimulated a call to action when needed and necessary. I don’t believe we have lost those qualities and characteristics. We just have to dust them off a bit and continue to empower the next generation to conscientiously and creatively serve our state.
Your retirement is at the end of this month, marking the end of a long and storied career, specifically for the people of Kansas. With all you’ve learned, if you could tell the people of Kansas one thing – one final lesson – what would it be?
That it’s all about building trusted relationships. Trusted relationships are needed to make progress. Trusted relationships allow for errors and learning from experience. Trusted relationships carry the day especially in times of challenge such as COVID and post-COVID. Those relationships are forged for the purpose of advancing all regions of our state.
And, since I am retiring, I get to indulge myself and give one additional lesson. Never stop investing in public education…democracy requires a well-educated public. Democracy fails without that.