Topeka — A long-awaited evaluation of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. says that the economic development agency shouldn’t be dismantled, but it needs to change.
“In the case of KTEC, rolling its function into another organization or eliminating the function altogether would force Kansas to relinquish its place in the ‘technology race’ and risk falling further behind,” the report by the consulting group Thomas R. Miller and Associates said.
But the 121-page report found problems with KTEC that it says need to be addressed. It notes that Kansas ranks in the bottom quartile of many technology-based rankings.
“It may be that it’s time for the function and operation of KTEC to evolve to the next level in terms of advancing innovation and commercialization in the state,” the report says.
KTEC, which has a nearly $14 million budget, was formed in 1986 to promote technology-based development. This year, as the state has faced severe revenue shortfalls, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and some lawmakers have proposed shutting KTEC and moving its functions to the Kansas Department of Commerce.
Tracy Taylor, KTEC president and CEO, has fought against the proposal, saying KTEC’s role is critical to helping the state during the current financial problems.
In a statement in response to the report, Taylor said the new evaluation “both validates our mission and, at the same time, makes a series of actionable recommendations.”
But Taylor also said the report included “substantial factural errors.” He didn’t elaborate but said the agency would be providing clarification to legislators and stakeholders.
The new report was based on an evaluation process, conducted for Kansas Inc., that involved interviews with more than 80 people and an analysis of numerous previous studies that have looked at KTEC.
It concluded that KTEC needs to have a clearer vision, should be more focused and establish a set of metrics to gauge its progress.
“KTEC may be guilty of compulsively branding itself,” the report stated. “KTEC should not unnecessarily promote itself but promote the Kansas entrepreneurial climate and legitimate successes.”
One of the major issues cited by the report dealt with developing research at Kansas universities into commercial enterprises.
Among the report’s findings:
• University-based centers of excellence and business incubators, which are supported by KTEC, need to be more adequately assessed for performance.
• The report said Kansas ranked low in “invention disclosures,” which is an indication of research activity that might lead to new inventions. “This is a red flag for Kansas, and indicates a lack of progress in encouraging or obtaining potential intellectual property out of universities,” the report said.
• Some board members said they didn’t get enough details about investment issues prior to having to make decisions. The appearance was that KTEC executive management controls board members’ access to information, the report said.
• Some of those interviewed referred to KTEC as a “black box” when it came to transparency and funding, the report said.