By WINK HARTMAN
Dear Governor Kelly,
While we may have our disagreements at times about how Kansas is run, I know that we also both want what we believe is best for our state. I have been following some of the changes that you have made to the Department of Commerce and have found many interesting and similar to areas that I have been advocating for in op-eds and social media.
I am writing this open letter with some more suggestions for how Kansas can improve our Department of Commerce in order to focus this agency on job creation and growth around our state. While there are many things that go into job growth, including a good tax environment, low electric rates, rural broadband and an educated workforce, Kansas needs a marketing department who can sell why businesses want to come here. Sadly, the state’s Department of Commerce has been lacking and many in our business community and our local governments have seen this.
First and foremost, we need to center the Department of Commerce on being an economic development department. No business could survive without a strong marketing department and the State of Kansas is the same. Unfortunately, the Department of Commerce has become a hodge podge of programs that have become of the focus.
We need to more workforce development out of the Department of Commerce and into the Department of Labor. Most states house workforce development in the labor department and employment department and it makes sense. Workforce development issues dovetail with the employment aspects of the Department of Labor.
Making this move would clear up the amount of time that Commerce Department leaders spend on workforce development and allow them to have a more laser like focus on economic development and marketing our state.
Next, we need to move tourism from the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and place it back in the Commerce Department. If we are to make the Commerce Department a true marketing department for our state, then tourism needs to be in this agency. Tourism is a heavily marketing based agency and combining all of our state’s marketing and branding efforts together makes sense. This is why many states have economic development and tourism under one roof.
Tourism is more than just our parks and wildlife. It is our small businesses, our scenic rural communities, our state’s rich history, our artists, our college sports teams. Many existing Commerce Department programs, including for Kansas Main Streets, dovetail nicely with tourism. And tourism can still work closely with wildlife and parks.
The Commerce Department also needs a better system of interacting with our counties and cities. One of the most common themes I hear from local economic development officials is that business recruitment is better when the Commerce Department is not involved, because they do not understand local priorities. This can be addressed by creating a system of regional councils – with public and private sector voices - to advise the commerce secretary on these issues.
Kansas is in a trying time and economic recovery is the paramount goal of every business leader and public official. There are many ways this can be addressed, but we need a focused agency on our economy and recovery, not just in the short term but in the long term as well. I am more than willing to talk with you more on this subject.
Wink Hartman is the CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita and the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.