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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Forum re-envisions state economy

By Dan Voorhis
The Wichita Eagle

Kansas’ economy has grown for most of its 150 years, but it grows slowly, relies on just a few industries, and can’t seem to generate the kinds of jobs needed to keep all of its brightest youth.

Those issues and more were discussed during a session at the Kansas in Question symposium Tuesday at Century II.

The discussions were meant to spark efforts by people and groups around the state, perhaps similar to the Visioneering Wichita effort. Dozens of the state’s leaders from business, government, universities and nonprofit sectors broke into discussion groups.

Jon Rolph, president of Sasnak Management and chairman of Wichita’s Visioneering effort, kicked off the discussion, telling about his farming forebearer and challenging leaders to delve deep.

“The American spirit is still alive,” Rolph said. “It’s up to us to better our communities and our state.”

Among key issues the discussion touched on:

• Retain the state’s talented youth. Young Professionals of Wichita was mentioned as a program that works.

• Make the state’s education system a stronger support for its economy, especially by having both two- and four-year colleges produce more graduates who can land good jobs and satisfy employers. One employer said that half of his employees would retire in the next five to seven years.

• Strengthen internship programs to better link education and employment.

• Decide whether the cost of a college education has risen to the point where it is hurting the state and its economic development.

• Overcome residents’ negative attitudes about the state. “We need to stop talking bad about Kansas,” said a participant.

• Work through the difficulty of designing policies for different regions with different economic needs and priorities.

• Tone down incivility in the political discussion.

• Diversify the economy, to draw different people from inside and outside the state.

• Make Kansas a hotbed of entrepreneurism.

• Encourage green jobs and high-tech industry to encourage more well-educated young adults to stay in the state.

• Figure out how to better integrate the immigrant population into the economy.

• Develop a consensus on taxes: Who pays, how and how much?

• Come to a consensus on how much government should do to lure key companies or industries with incentives. Some contend the state should create as attractive a business environment as possible and not play favorites.

• Answer how competitive we want Kansans to be. It takes a lot of money, effort and political will to compete for the best jobs.

• And determine how willing Kansans are to tolerate risk if economic development efforts don’t work out.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577.

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