Several weeks ago, the Kansas Legislature's Division of Post-Audit released a report focusing on the estimated $1.5 billion the state has spent on, or appropriated for, economic development programs.
This report, part one of a two-part analysis, was designed to answer the following questions: "How much state, federal and local government money has been spent on economic development programs during the past five years, and what have past audits and recent literature shown about the effectiveness of economic development programs?"
The second report, to be made public later this year, is supposed to answer the question: "What results can be seen from state spending for economic development in Kansas?"
The first report presents detailed information about where economic development money has been spent and what impact these funds have had on counties throughout the state.
As might be expected, the state's three most urban counties - Wyandotte, Sedgwick and Johnson - received almost 58 percent of the state's total economic development assistance.
On the flip side, 31 counties, 27 of which are located west of Wichita, account for just over 1 percent of the total economic development assistance.
As the report points out, "Overall, the map (showing distribution of state funds) shows that economic development funds follow population. In fact, 87 percent of the variation in costs is attributable to differences in county population. In other words, those counties with higher populations have generated and received more economic development moneys."
Those concerned about Kansas' economic welfare, the future of the state, job opportunities, the availability of water and the importance of trying to attract new business, industry, jobs and tax revenues in western Kansas are well aware of the state's challenges and, in many cases, the outflow of many of the state's brightest young men and women, who seek better job opportunities in other parts of the country.
Justified or not, right or wrong, those living in western Kansas do not believe they are getting the attention and help they deserve. There are many who question the commitment and interest of current Kansas University leaders in western Kansas, pointing out that just as economic money flows to the most popular counties, so does KU's current attention and interest, i.e., to Johnson County and Kansas City, Mo.
Again, some of this thinking may be justified and some may be the result of years of frustration and seeing young people leaving that part of the state. On the other hand, it appears there is justification for anger - major anger - for many in western Kansas based on a statement made at a March 6 meeting of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. staff and those referred to as members of the "KTEC network" (those receiving funds from KTEC).
Someone at the meeting asked a question about KTEC's investment and economic development in western Kansas.
Tracy Taylor, KTEC president and chief executive officer, reportedly answered the question by saying:
"There are approximately 300,000 people in western Kansas. As Kevin Carr says, 'We ought to give each of the 300,000 people living in western Kansas $5,000 to rent a U-Haul and move east.'"
According to knowledgeable sources, Carr, chief operating officer of KTEC, immediately "reacted" and "clarified" that he did not make the comment Taylor attributed to him. There wasn't a single individual in the room at that time who isn't an "insider" in KTEC and the KTEC network, and it is reported they were shocked at Taylor's statement.
No one denies this statement was made, but one attendee said he thought some may have "missed the point and context of the quote." To this writer the "point" and "context" are pretty clear and they likely will seem very clear to those living in western Kansas.
According to the Legislative Post-Audit report, KTEC has received $70 million in the 2003-07 fiscal years for economic development purposes, with $7.1 million coming from federal funds, $58.6 million from the state and $3.7 million from "other" sources.
Based on Taylor's reported response, it is easy to understand why those living in a general area west of Wichita would question Taylor's level of effort to help those living in western Kansas and encourage business and industry to locate in this hard-hit part of the state.
As far as the state's effort to attract industry and business, Taylor's dumb, politically insensitive and explosive remarks about western Kansas are likely to cause many state legislators, particularly those from western Kansas, to question the effectiveness of the dollars they have appropriated to KTEC - and the political astuteness of Taylor.
The first part of the Post-Audit report has provided many interesting, sometimes shocking, facts about the state's effort to stimulate and enhance Kansas' image as a great place for new industry and new business.
Competition is becoming more intense and more professional, and Kansas cannot afford to coast and not put its best foot forward.