Experts say Kansas is poised to foster economic growth through advancements in energy, bioscience, transportation and agriculture.
And Lawrence is poised to feed the economic engine.
“The Lawrence community and the University of Kansas are right in the middle of all that,” said Tom Kern, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, after attending Thursday’s Kansas Economic Policy Conference at Kansas University. “These are things we can continue to build on. We have the right tools in the toolbox, and we need to start using those tools in the toolbox.”
Kern joined about 100 educators, business leaders, economic development officials and others to attend the annual conference organized by KU’s Institute for Policy and Social Research. This year’s theme — The Kansas Economy: 2015 — encouraged speakers to look ahead at trends, demographics and opportunities for the state and its residents.
Various panels, presentations and speakers emphasized that while some of the state’s largest industries remained under pressure and susceptible for shrinkage in the near future, some focus areas were blessed with the best chances for expansion.
Donna Ginther, director of the institute’s Center for Economic and Business Analysis, said that while manufacturing, finance, information, retail and construction were poised for retrenchment, several other areas appeared good candidates for building economic momentum.
“The future needs to be more balanced,” she said, “and our new investments in bioscience, transportation and alternative fuels hopefully will be the future of economic growth for the state of Kansas.”
David Vranicar, president of Heartland BioVentures for the Kansas Bioscience Authority, reported that the authority was working to pump $50 million into venture capital efforts, which would be expected to add at least $200 million more to bioscience investments in the state.
Bob Honea, director of KU’s Transportation Research Institute, outlined the university’s ongoing efforts to create unmanned aerial vehicles, improve the efficiency and safety of road construction, and create fuel-efficient propulsion systems.
And Greg Krissek, director of government affairs for ICM Inc., discussed the rising potential for production of alternative fuels — whether it’s the ethanol his company makes using Kansas crops, or the biodiesel and other efforts under way at KU.
In the end, a large segment of all the data and trends and forecasts discussed Thursday managed to follow what Kern had been thinking all along.
Now all the efforts to open a technology and commercialization center in cooperation with KU, the push to land new business at Lawrence Municipal Airport and the work to grow sustainable-agriculture opportunities in the region sound even better, he said, as they all fit within the big picture of the state’s economy.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Kern said.