The operative word concerning the future of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. is “change.”
The question is how best to achieve that change.
Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed funding for KTEC and proposed folding some of its functions into the Kansas Department of Commerce. New Gov. Mark Parkinson told the Journal-World last week that he is willing to preserve the agency and said the Senate plan to reduce KTEC funding from about $12 million to about $7 million makes sense.
Parkinson noted that the state currently has “at least four different economic development agencies that are all trying to do basically the same thing.” In these economic times, the state can’t afford that kind of duplication and inefficiency.
Even though Sebelius eliminated KTEC funding from the budget, she was willing to continue funding for some KTEC programs, including work being done at state universities. Her point, which still is valid, is that KTEC is not producing a solid return on the state’s investment and that one way to improve the situation was to abolish the agency and see exactly what parts of it need to be preserved and what needs to be dropped.
A recent evaluation of KTEC agreed with Parkinson that the agency should be maintained but needed to change. Among the criticisms cited in the report and by Kansas legislators is that KTEC’s operation is far too closed to public scrutiny and involved significant conflicts of interest on the part of its CEO, Tracy Taylor, and some members of the KTEC board.
This raises the question of whether change in this agency should begin at the top. Taylor is pulling down a huge salary and has been criticized for conflicts of interest and not divulging sufficient information to the public, legislators or even his board. At least some legislators would place most of the blame for KTEC problems on the way Taylor does business, and there reportedly has been discussion between some legislators and Taylor about him stepping down as CEO in order to preserve the KTEC mission.
It seems clear it’s time to re-evaluate KTEC, how it blends with other state economic development efforts and whether it is conducting business in an ethical and above-board manner. A full overhaul of the agency, not mere tweaking, may be needed and should be on the table. In many ways, it could be far easier to consider a different, more effective, direction for KTEC if Taylor stepped aside.
Parkinson and state legislators have choices to make, but it would be a huge mistake to simply supply the funding that would allow KTEC to continue its current operation without making, or even considering, significant changes.