Kansas’ state motto begins with the phrase “To the stars,” and that’s exactly where Gov. Sam Brownback’s commerce secretary is aiming with a new initiative.
The Kansas Department of Commerce is launching a new marketing campaign meant to entice companies that build satellites and other space-bound objects to move their manufacturing to Kansas.
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Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave floated the campaign, which is in the very early stages of development, during a recent interview, saying that the “outer space initiatives” were meant to take advantage of “the natural synergies that exist in our state.”
Soave pointed to Wichita’s aviation industry and Kansas State University’s Polytechnic campus in Salina as reasons why Kansas is poised to be a manufacturing center for both satellites and the burgeoning business of commercial spacecraft.
“We have to be looking at next generation activity,” Soave said, referring to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX as the type of companies he is hoping will consider manufacturing in Kansas.
Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said that he would be supportive of the idea of Kansas trying to wade into the commercial space industry if it was a serious proposal. He was skeptical that the Brownback administration would be able to commit the necessary resources to such a project.
“This kind of sounds like a typical Brownback thing where they throw out a shiny object,” Ward said.
Asked for more information about the initiative, Soave’s spokeswoman, Nicole Randall, clarified that it is a marketing campaign and that the Commerce Department was not pursuing tax or other economic incentives to lure companies to the state.
“The outer space initiative will be a marketing/promotional campaign that targets companies across the nation and the world that manufacture parts or technology that is used in aerospace missions. Due to the aviation cluster in the Wichita area, the more than 350 companies engaged in the aviation industry and the highly and specifically-skilled workforce, Kansas is a prime location for this type of sub-cluster to be built,” Randall said.
Some of the international companies involved in manufacturing satellites, such as Airbus, already have a presence in Kansas but manufacture satellites at other facilities around the globe. Other companies involved in the industry, such as Boeing, have pulled away from Kansas in recent years.
Kansas could face tough competition from Florida’s “Space Coast,” the region surrounding Cape Canaveral, which is already a well-established space manufacturing center.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Airbus, in a co-venture with OneWeb, plans to break ground on a manufacturing facility in Florida that will produce three satellites a day when it opens next year. SpaceX has also made significant investments in Florida facilities.
“I think it’s important that we’re laser-focused…What we’re trying to do is build on the natural synergies that exist,” Soave said last month. “The R and D base already exists for these companies to flourish and to grow…We sometimes perceive Kansas to be a flyover state. We take exception to that. We consider Kansas to be a destination.”