Kansas legislators should take a hard look at the just-released report by the Legislative Division of Post Audit, which shows how much state money has been spent on economic development during the past five years. The second half of the study, which will focus on how effectively the money was spent, is scheduled to be completed in May.
According to the audit, the state has provided $1.5 billion in an effort to spur the state's economy.
Various individuals are likely to have differing opinions, but so far, there is not much evidence that the $1.5 billion has attracted many new ventures to improve the state's economy.
Currently, there is an effort to attract a giant prize, the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, to Manhattan. The super laboratory would add large numbers of construction jobs and a highly paid staff to operate the facility. It also would attract other related companies to locate in Kansas.
This would be a real plum, but at this time, those trying to sell Kansas really don't know whether the excellence of the site will be the determining factor in the competition among five or six sites or whether political lobbying will decide where the lab is located.
This writer used to be a member of the Kansas Bioscience Authority board, which has been provided approximately $580 million over a 10-year period.
At the start of this authority, Clay Blair did an exceptional job in crisscrossing the country, advertising Kansas as a great state for new ventures. He also crisscrossed Kansas, visiting with entrepreneurs to find out whether relatively small sums of money from the KBA could help some companies expand their operations, buy some new equipment, add jobs and improve their economic conditions.
Blair did a magnificent job, at minimal expense for travel, etc. He did not receive a salary.
However, there were those who wanted to get Blair out of his position. It was a political hatchet job, and it was a major loss to the state. Blair had done an excellent job in attracting new jobs to the state and getting officers of major companies to consider moving some of their operations to the state. He played a major role in establishing the research park in Olathe.
Nevertheless, there were some determined to get Blair out of this job. It was a matter of egos and dirty, mean politics.
His replacement, Tom Thornton, has ridden on Blair's coattails, and reportedly is being paid approximately $300,000 plus a very attractive bonus opportunity. He really hasn't accomplished much since he took over as head of KBA. Here is a case where a lot of state money is going for salaries and office expense and it's up for debate just how much Kansas is getting for those dollars. The same questions apply to the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. Its director, Tracy Taylor, has a nice salary, reported to be somewhere around $275,000. What new jobs has KTEC brought to Kansas?
There's a lot of talk about what is being accomplished in attracting new business, new employees and new taxpayers to Kansas, as well as encouraging businesses and entrepreneurs in the state. But what has been accomplished in the years since Blair was ousted? Most all of the companies or jobs Thornton and others are bragging about were identified and nurtured by Blair.
One and a half-billion dollars is a lot of money. Before a good percentage of this goes to fat salaries and unnecessary expenses, it's time for state legislators to take a hard look at what is being accomplished.
It is hoped the post audit will serve as a stimulus for state lawmakers to dig deeper to find out what is going on in Kansas' economic development programs, other than fat salaries and political maneuvering.