Politics & Government

Brownback hoping to attract manufacturing jobs to Kansas from abroad

Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that he hopes to bring more manufacturing jobs to Kansas as domestic and foreign companies look to expand in the United States.

Brownback and the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors met to review the state’s economic growth and to discuss how to attract more manufacturing jobs to the state.

With a goal of reclaiming jobs being shipped overseas, the council heard presentations from experts and business leaders about possible strategies.

Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, tried to dispel the notion that the United States had entered into a manufacturing renaissance. He said Kansas needs to foster innovation in manufacturing. One way to do this would be to identify which small businesses have growth potential. He referred to these as “gazelles.”

“Those are the ones you want to target, and you want to nurture them,” Meckstroth said.

He also recommended that the state help build bridges between universities and manufacturers.

Kansas can improve its viability with an educated workforce, he said.

That recommendation gels closely with what Wichita State University plans for its innovation campus, which would connect engineers on campus with the business world. WSU representatives were present to discuss the university’s role in the jobs efforts.

“I think what the state’s going to find out is we are going to be a key player in this,” said Andy Schlapp, the university’s lobbyist.

The governor also noted WSU’s importance in strengthening the state’s manufacturing viability.

Brownback said he plans to play to the state’s strengths like aerospace manufacturing, in which Kansas ranks fourth nationally. He said that WSU plays a key role in further boosting this industry.

“We are right now actively recruiting (in the) aviation sector – particularly some people in the supply chains for the big manufacturers – and we’ve got some pretty promising leads,” Brownback said.

He said that when he went to the International Air Show in Paris over the summer the university’s National Institute for Aviation Research, which links researchers with industry, gave the state an edge.

“That was a really nice big plus that we had that nobody else had,” the governor said.

But aviation alone probably won’t be enough to spur the growth that Kansas needs.

Meckstroth noted that the state’s top 10 export commodities account for about 50 percent of its exports and that the state needs to diversify its exports. He also advised that Kansas should pursue trading with emerging markets in the developing world that have more growth potential than countries in Western Europe.

Overall, Brownback said, the state’s economic health is improving.

“I’m heartened. You’re at nearly back to ’07 levels on your index of leading indicators,” Brownback said.

According to reports distributed at the meeting, Kansas outpaced the national economy in some areas and lagged in others.

Total non-farm employment is seen as a strong indicator of the health of the economy. The U.S. saw a 1.7 percent increase in 2013, which translates into 2,328,000 more jobs. Kansas also saw an increase of 0.7 percent, which accounted for 10,000 jobs.

But Kansas surpassed the U.S. in another important economic area. Kansas saw a 22.5 percent increase in the number of building permits issued in 2013, whereas the nation only saw a 15.9 percent increase.

All of this information gets distilled into the Kansas Index of Leading Indicators. For January of 2014 the state scored a 106.8, which is slightly below where it was during the summer of 2007, before the recession began in 2008.

Brownback said he saw this as a success.

“I would like a president that works more to grow the country more. That would help,” he said. “But I look at the Kansas indicators … and I think there’s a lot that’s pretty encouraging here.”

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, has repeatedly blamed the Brownback administration for not doing enough to spur economic growth.

“Our economic stability went down as a result of Governor Brownback’s failed economic experiment. In December, Kansas lost more jobs per capita than every state in the nation except Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” Davis said last week.

But according to the March report from the council there’s been some positive strides in Kansas in the past year even if December was a rocky month. The unemployment was at 4.9 percent in December 2013, compared with 5.5 percent in December 2012.