Jun 17, 2022

Kelly: Economic development key to strengthening Kansas

Posted Jun 17, 2022 5:41 PM
<b>Kansas Governor Laura Kelly with the state's second Gold Shovel Award for economic development.</b> Photo courtesy the governor's office
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly with the state's second Gold Shovel Award for economic development. Photo courtesy the governor's office

Salina Post

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly firmly believes that if the state is not growing, it is dying. That is why she and her administration have placed such an emphasis on economic development during her first term in office.

"We have revived our state. We've fixed a lot of the things that were wrong, and clearly, that strategy is working," Kelly told Salina Post in an interview Thursday afternoon. "And I want to continue to build on that so that I leave Kansas a lot stronger than I found it."

Last week, it was announced that Kansas was one of only five states to win Area Development magazine’s coveted 2022 Gold Shovel Award, the second such award in as many years. The annual award is given to states that attract high-value investment projects that create a significant number of new jobs in their communities.

According to information from the governor's office, Kansas has received nearly $8.8 billion in new business investments, created and retained nearly 43,000 jobs, and been home to 645 new economic development projects during the Kelly administration.

With two gold shovels in the state's trophy case, Kelly now has her sights set on a move upward to the recently created platinum shovel, a goal that she has conveyed to Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland.

"The first time he delivered the gold shovel (2021), I said, 'this is very nice, David, but next year we want the platinum one," but there wasn't one," she said.

Now, however a platinum shovel award has been established. How does Kansas win a platinum shovel?

"You just have to be very successful in landing new capital investments," Kelly explained. "We have been able to do that. In 2020, we set a record for the most new capital investments in state history. That was only good, though, for a silver shovel. But then, in 2021, we went above and beyond and hit $3.8 billion in capital investments. That earned us the gold shovel."

Some of those capital investments, or economic development projects, are right here in Salina, including expansions at Schwan's, Great Plains Manufacturing, and McShares. Kelly also noted the unique-to-Kansas services offered by 1 Vision Aviation and the company's growth at the Salina Regional Airport as a boost to the local and state economy.

While the job growth is a huge boost for Salina, it also has created a need for more housing in and around the city. On April 20, Kelly signed the new state budget that includes increases the state’s funding for housing by $65 million over two years. According to information from the governor's office, the funding "will be dedicated to the development and renovation of moderate-income housing and the creation of a state revolving loan program to support the state’s workforce needs and close the financing gap in rural communities."

"We're making serious investments for things that we know are critical for people in the state of Kansas," Kelly said.

Looking to the future

Kelly said she has plenty to keep her busy should she win re-election in November.

"Obviously, I want to build on the successes of my first term. I want to continue to set records for economic development," Kelly told Salina Post. "I want to continue to fund our schools and our roads, all of the things that really contribute to our economic success and the quality of life here in the state."

Kelly said she also had some goals she had not yet been able to achieve, including Medicaid expansion.

"I have been pushing hard for that all four sessions as governor and before as a state senator. I am hoping that once the election is over and I'm no longer a candidate to be opposed that we can break that logjam in the legislature and get Medicaid expansion done," she said.

Additionally, Kelly wants to expand high-speed internet access in Kansas.

"Another thing I want to build on and complete is by the end of my second term, I want to have every home and every business in the State of Kansas that wants to be connected to high-speed internet to get connected," Kelly said. "We know that if we are going to continue to grow as a state and attract people and keep people in our state, we've got to have that connectivity, so that is a goal."

Taking care of early childhood needs also is a goal for Kelly.

"I've always said that I want my legacy as governor to be the most robust, comprehensive early childhood system in the country," she told Salina Post.

Kelly said some headway has been made in the early childhood area during her first term as governor, however, the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on those efforts and forced the Kelly administration to change its focus to making sure there were childcare slots available because so many childcare providers had to shut down during the pandemic.

"We've been focused on ensuring that there are places for parents to leave their kids in a quality environment while they work, but we want to go way beyond that," Kelly said. "We had begun to develop a public/private partnership approach to early childhood, and we will continue to build on that during my second term."

Local and area programs that contribute to economic development

Earlier this year, Kelly was in Salina twice. Once to announce that Salina had joined the state's revitalized Main Street program and also for the ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration of the expanded OCCK Transportation facility downtown. Additionally, OCCK celebrated the announcement that it was one of 26 agencies receiving funds as a part of the Access, Innovation, and Collaboration (AIC) Public Transit Program.

Kelly noted that both Salina efforts were boosts to economic development. The Kansas Main Street program, for instance, give communities access to key technical services, networking, and training opportunities. It also allows local officials to prioritize restoring and preserving unique, historic downtown business districts. The program supports community development and projects that bring in new businesses, that improve the quality of life, and slow the exodus of young Kansans from the state.

READ: Salina Downtown receives national accreditation

Likewise, OCCK's efforts to provide transportation to those who need it, both in Salina and throughout the area, also boosts economic development.

"That was probably one of the most inspiring of all the dedications that I have done," Kelly said of the OCCK celebration in April. "To just see what OCCK has done in your area to really serve folks in need of transportation. Getting them to and from where they need to be. It started out so small and it has just grown like gangbusters."