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Archive for Monday, February 23, 2004

To the stars …

Kansas was born of difficulty, a fact that should be remembered as we struggle with the current situation.

February 23, 2004

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What if there was a way to create a 200-mile by 400-mile piece of undeveloped land and place it in the middle of the United States, a space equal to the size of Kansas and located between Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska?

Knowing what we know today about the history of Kansas and the success and disappointments in how the state was developed, and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the area, as well as opportunities, how would this 80,000-square-mile area best be designed and developed?

If there was such a chance to "start over," what would be the best possible design for our new and improved Kansas? There would be many questions to consider:

How many counties would be needed? Would it be wise to have fewer school districts? What would be done to create the finest possible systems of education -- K-12 and higher education? What would the transportation system look like? What about recreation facilities, and where they should be located? How best to preserve and protect clean water? What would be the best way to encourage investment and business development?

All this is dreaming, but there is merit for Kansas residents and lawmakers to give more thought to the future of the state, how best to be prepared and take advantage of opportunities that are sure to come, how to be more efficient, and how to make the state an even better place in which to live, work and play.

We would want to consider the best ways to hold on to a higher percentage of the state's young people and to stop the loss of population from so many counties. We'd struggle with how to give young people the best possible educational opportunities at a reasonable price tag, and how to attract new businesses that would offer attractive jobs for young, talented Kansans.

When times are good, it is easy not to give too much thought to improving things. But when conditions are stressful and budgets are tight, that's the time for setting challenging goals, giving citizens a dream, or a target to shoot for.

And it's a time to get things in place so that when conditions get better, the state and its various agencies are ready to take off and soar rather than merely drifting and wondering why other states seems to be moving ahead while Kansas floats along with the tide.

The Kansas Research and Development Act, which was passed in the 2002 legislative session, and the Kansas Economic Growth Act, now coming before the Legislature, are two pieces of legislation that should give Kansans hope and pay dividends for the state and its people.

The state needs legislators, those in the administration and citizens who are willing to think outside the box, to have the vision and courage to set challenging goals. The public is getting tired of the same old approach to pressing problems.

Particularly when times are tight, the public wants new ideas, new solutions and new reasons to be optimistic about the future. They want to see their lawmakers not only talking about and dreaming of a better Kansas, but doing something to bring it about.

One legislator who does indeed think outside the box recently posed this question: What would be the result if Kansas University and KU Medical Center each had an agent or representative in every county of the state, just as Kansas State University has with its Agricultural Extension Agents? What dividends might this pay for residents of each of these counties or each of the educational institutions? Maybe it is a silly suggestion, maybe not. But the point is, legislators and citizens should be thinking about ways to be more efficient and aim for excellence, not mediocrity.

Certainly, it would be nice to start a new state of Kansas with a clean slate and to avoid all our past missteps. Obviously, that's impossible. But it isn't impossible to dream of what could be done to make Kansas an ever better state than it is today and to dream big, bold dreams. We should be learning from the past and following the state's motto: To the stars through difficulties.

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