A recent Eagle raised the question of whether the governor can make Kansas and Wichita grow faster. The answer is undoubtedly yes, if the governor, legislature and local officials focus on these policy dimensions:
▪ A continuously educated workforce is most important. Wichita and Kansas are short of the technical school and college-trained tech workers needed by existing employers and to create the technology-based companies that will produce net new jobs.
▪ Science and technology-based entrepreneurship must be encouraged, along with early stage public and private investments. The state needs integrated policy and funding to support applications for federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants, on the path to patents and commercialization of intellectual property developed in Kansas.
▪ Our high concentration of engineers creates a problem-solving culture that is not fully utilized. The region and state need integrated policy and funding to systematically promote the types of engineering that can lead to innovation in existing new industries that diversity the economic base.
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▪ Materials science and chemical engineering are both underfunded fields in Kansas that can, if properly supported, become important drivers of engineering innovation and business formation.
▪ Applied research at the graduate level and research and development industry are important infrastructure needs. This region is a center for industrial lubricants, yet many engineers required to push these businesses forward have to be imported from out-of-state because of lack of local chemical and materials academic programs and research.
▪ Kansas ranks low compared to other states in R&D, to the point where the federal government has made the state eligible for special funds to try to improve the state’s research infrastructure. We need to build it.
▪ The agriculture and petroleum industries spread across the rural areas of the state need access to fast broadband for data transmission on such issues as time to water, time to fertilize, minimizing oil spills, quickly solving issues with pumps and the like. Kansas needs to get the “Internet of Things” to all areas.
▪ Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and digital game development are producing jobs and prosperity in many regions of the country. Experiments with artificial intelligence in traditional aircraft research is producing new designs for non-structural components of aircraft that look totally different, and are lighter and stronger than components that they would replace. Add artificial intelligence and materials engineering, and Wichita would have a powerful engine to drive future development. Wichita has the beginnings of a cybersecurity cluster between its military and educational institutions. Gaming platforms have gone beyond time-killing to become the basis for new methods of educating and training and new ways to create new products and processes.
▪ Both the metro area and the state need to develop formal, broad-ranging policies that support quality of life. Talented people are in high demand and they can live wherever they choose. They choose communities with high quality education, arts, health care, environment, low crime, and general livability. There is a reason why nationally Science Technology Engineering Arts Math is replacing STEMin the models of development that are most effective.
▪ With continued city and state help and local support, WSU and WSU Tech will continue to foster innovation to help our students succeed and fuel the growth of our region and state.
Working together, Kansas will prosper.
Dr. John Bardo is president of Wichita State University.