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Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

State economic leader aims to shorten slowdown

Lt. Gov. Moore says Kansas faces challenges

March 30, 2003

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In his dual role of lieutenant governor and secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing, John Moore spends much of his time watching two things -- the health of the governor and the calendar.

As the person first in line to assume the governorship, the reasons for watching the health of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius are obvious. Former Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer often was fond of joking with crowds that the biggest issue on the agenda at the annual lieutenant governor's conference was "How's your governor feeling?"

The reasons for watching the calendar, though, have more to do with Moore's role as the top economic development leader in the state.

Moore has been in the Kansas business community since 1982, when he became a senior vice president for Cessna Aircraft. So he knows the state's experience when it comes to recovering from an economic downturn.

"I'm very well aware that historically, Kansas has had an 18-month lag time behind the return of the national economy," Moore said in an interview with the Journal-World last week. "We have to do everything we can to shorten that lag time or eliminate it. We definitely don't want to wait that long."

If the lag time isn't shortened, it could be a long wait. According to forecasts Moore has received, he said the national economy wasn't expected to improve until 2004. An upturn for the state's critically important aviation industry isn't expected until 2005.

"The Kansas economy is certainly very difficult right now, and it seems like we get more bad news almost on a weekly basis," Moore said, referring to the recent announcement that his former company was laying off 1,200 Wichita workers and furloughing 6,000 more.

"I have to say I don't see any remarkable circumstances that will turn this economy around anytime soon."

So Moore watches his calendar, counting the days until an expected recovery will begin, and talks with business leaders.

He said the latter was the most important thing he could do to ensure the state's economy wouldn't continue to sputter once the national economy improves. Moore hopes his contacts in the state and national business communities will open doors for Kansas.

At Cessna, Moore rose through the ranks to become one of only two executive vice presidents for the company before retiring in July, when he changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat to become Sebelius' running mate.


"You talk to anybody you can who is in a position to accelerate growth," Moore said of his strategy. "You talk to anybody who is in a key business position that can make projects happen quicker than they were originally planned."

Here are other thoughts Moore had on economic issues during last week's interview:

Unemployment

Moore said he wasn't ready to say the state's unemployment rate, last measured at 5.2 percent, wouldn't creep higher. But he's keeping his fingers crossed.

"I would hope that we have bottomed out, or are close to the bottom," Moore said. "But I really have no crystal ball to make that prediction. The forecasts are varied.

"The big question is, does it get worse before it gets better or does it get incrementally better?"

Aviation

In Kansas, a big part of that answer depends on what happens with the aviation industry. Moore is clearly concerned that the industry may still face heavy turbulence.

"You hope that aviation is at the bottom, but I've been in the industry long enough to know that we really don't know," Moore said. "The war certainly helps nothing."

Moore is also worried that the industry's latest downturn may cause aviation companies to change in ways that will hurt the state once the economy does recover.

"What concerns me is we're really seeing aviation companies restructure how they do business," Moore said.



Occupation: Kansas lieutenant governor and secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing.Previous occupations: Senior vice president of Human Resources for Cessna Aircraft Co.; executive vice president of Cessna.Leadership: Past chairman of Kansas Inc. and Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp.; founding director and past president of the Kansas Foodbank; past chairman of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission.

He cited recent news that Raytheon, which has a plant in Wichita, has begun to adopt strategies to outsource some of its work, most notably several of its parts production operations.

"We have to be working with all these companies right now to make sure that when the economy does recover that Kansas is as much a part of their plans as we have been in the past," Moore said. "We have to make sure their next generation of products are made here in Kansas."

Moore said that might mean changing some of the state's incentive programs. Specifically, he is considering introducing a plan that would allow the state to provide incentives to support companies' research and development operations.

"Traditionally, our incentive programs have invested more in bricks and mortar," Moore said. "The idea of investing in research and development would be a new concept for our state."

Existing businesses

Moore said the state's incentive programs also might need to change to cater more to existing Kansas businesses.

"If you have a Missouri company that has 500 jobs and it is thinking about moving to Kansas, we have incentives to offer that company," Moore said. "If we have a Kansas company with 500 jobs and it is thinking about moving to Missouri, we don't have as many incentives to offer them."

The problem may be tough to tackle. Moore admits he doesn't yet have any specific proposals to change the situation.

"What I can tell you is that it has been my impression for many years that cities and communities sometimes don't treat existing companies and businesses as well as they do strangers," Moore said.

Selling Kansas

Changing the attitudes of companies who are considering moving into the state is another challenge Moore sees for his department. He thinks Kansas is still fighting an image problem with many companies and site-selection consultants.

"I don't believe the image of our state reflects the quality of life we have to offer," Moore said. "We have to find a better way to more accurately describe what the state has to offer."

He said two of the most frequent misconceptions he heard from companies seeking to relocate were an inaccurate perception of the quality of the state's education system and a belief that the state lacked metropolitan areas.

"I'm an example of how we can change that," Moore said. "I moved here from Dallas 20 years ago. We had two children who weren't excited about moving here a long time ago, but now they make their homes here too. They love it."

Lawrence

Moore also had advice for Lawrence leaders as they try to determine the city's economic development strategy. He's aware of the vocal public debates that have occurred about tax abatements and other economic development projects in Lawrence.

He said he hoped Lawrence was on a path to reaching a more mutual agreement about the future of economic development in the city.

"I think you have to share a vision about the type of businesses you want to attract," Moore said. "That shared vision is the key."

After a contentious debate about three years ago on whether tax abatements should be offered to an American Eagle Outfitters warehouse project, several economic development leaders have privately expressed concern that the state's Department of Commerce was reluctant to point potential projects toward the direction of Lawrence.

Moore said the department wouldn't shy away from Lawrence because of its past debates.

"Absolutely not," he said. "What I will do when we have proposals or possible projects come to our attention, is I will tell your leaders about them and ask them whether this fits in with your shared vision.

"If it does, then we can move ahead. But I do agree that there really should never be a public debate about a project after the fact."

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