Opinion Columns & Blogs

Charlie Chandler: Growing the region


It is time to exit the slow growth period Kansas has been in by taking steps toward building a next-generation economy for this region. We have convened the marketplace of economic stakeholders to make this happen, right now. This isn’t a planning process – it’s a doing process.

More than 100 of your south-central Kansas neighbors are developing a Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth (BREG), a business- and community-driven process to create a brighter economic future for residents of the 10 counties of south-central Kansas. We are doing this in a very basic way: by helping markets work. We will accomplish this by aligning the many inputs that each industry in our region needs in order to grow outputs that compete globally.

We have divided into eight groups, each focusing on an industry cluster that is doing well and holds promise to grow much faster with increased attention. These are industries that sell outside the region and bring new revenue and jobs into the region. The clusters are aerospace; oil and gas production and transportation; machinery and metalworking; agriculture inputs and processing; transportation and logistics; data services and electronic components; advanced materials; and health care devices, practices and information technology.

The cluster groups met in April and May and plan to continue their work in June. A public meeting is planned for July 10 in Derby. More information is available at bregsck.com.

Through our bottom-up, market-focused, collaborative approach, key ideas are beginning to take shape. To provide a foundation for growth, we need to excel in delivering what companies in each industry need: new skills, innovation, access to financing, excellent logistics, sufficient resources, good governance and quality-of-life improvements.

Each cluster group is developing a competitive strategy that defines challenges, actions and commitments to realistic solutions, and on which they agree to implement with other companies, suppliers and providers of input – private or public.

We’ll also be looking for challenges that cut across multiple clusters, such as needs for telecommunications, roads, training or regulation relief. These shared initiatives will enhance the economic performance of our entire region.

If the BREG process works as designed, participants from industry and institutions will launch an implementation partnership to coordinate and track actions for each cluster strategy and regional crosscutting initiative.

We’re already seeing benefits from the process, because it’s brought people together who haven’t worked together before.

We’re used to working within our own counties, or in small groups of counties. The BREG process has us thinking regionally, with participants from all of these counties: Butler, Cowley, Harper, Harvey, Kingman, Marion, McPherson, Reno, Sedgwick and Sumner.

What is also key is that BREG brings together not only producers but also suppliers and key providers of inputs – whether educators, investors, developers or utilities – to help each market learn and change.

So if it all works as envisioned, how will south-central Kansas be different?

There are a tremendous number of variables, especially the national economy, but here’s what we foresee:

By Labor Day, we will have a clearly defined set of cluster-specific and regional initiatives that will be carried out by industry working with institutions – bottom-up, not top-down, and market-focused.

By one year from now, we will have a robust regional organization working with industry and government to help implement the action initiatives and make continuous improvements. This is not a one-time project.

By five years from now, south-central Kansas will be considered one of the hot growth regions in the country. It will be nationally recognized as a high-performing region and model for economic growth.

By 10 years from now, parents in other parts of the country will be sad because their children and grandchildren have permanently relocated to south-central Kansas to take advantage of the abundant economic opportunities and quality of life found here.

Charlie Chandler is co-chairman of the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth. He is chairman and CEO of Intrust Bank.