Kansas brand being tarnished

Joe Knopp

By A Contributor

The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce had its annual meeting Friday evening. It is clear that the investment in economic development that began in the 1980s is now paying big dividends.

Great strides have been made in Manhattan and other com-munities in Kansas. Manhattan’s list of accomplishments in-cludes: Top five “Best Small Places for Business and Car-eers” four years running, according to Forbes maga-zine; “One of the Top Ten Fastest Growing MSAs in the U.S.”; the No. 5 “High Tech Hub” Metro, according to Business Facilities, and “One of 10 Great Places to Launch a Second Career in Retirement,” according to U.S. News and World Re-port. The list is really much longer. (See the Chamber website.)

A key ingredient in Manhat-tan’s economic success is our ability to attract the next gen-eration of 28- to 42-year-old entrepreneurs and innovators with high-tech savvy. Right now, Manhattan is competing in a world economy for top research companies for NBAF and other ventures that are run by and employ these 28- to 42-year-old scientists and entrepreneurs.

Yet my children, who reflect that 28- to-42-year-old talent pool, are reading news reports and writing us from points throughout the world asking, “What is the Kansas Legislature thinking?”

After Kansas invested hun-dreds of millions of dollars over the past 30 years to promote the perception of a better business climate, the national and inter-national news is filled with our Legislature’s bills on gay rights, corporal punishment, an infat-uation with guns in public buildings, opposition to simple national education standards, etc.

Our economic prosperity de-pends upon Kansas attracting and retaining entrepreneurs and innovators. If we do not address our perception problem, they will continue going to Austin, Texas, or Palo Alto, Calif, and elsewhere.

We know that Gov. Sam Brown-back and House Speaker Ray Merrick cannot control every crackpot. However, the governor and speaker can become better mentors for these new legis-lators. All Kansans, too, must share some responsibility for this fiasco because we elected them.

In the next election, we must send a clear message to incum-bents and challengers that the economic future of the state — and that includes improving the marketing of the Kansas brand to the world — is our highest priority.

The Kansas brand must mean that Kansans welcome diversity. The Kansas brand means that we are a state that is safe from violence and crime, and that we allow each city council, school board and county commission to set safety standards for our public buildings instead of spending money they deem unnecessary on security guards, etc.

Kansas is a state that creates great educational opportunities for our chil-dren, from kindergarten to higher education, and we are not afraid of setting standards for education. Kansans care about those who cannot fend for them-selves. Kansas has a great transportation system. The list goes on.

We can get past the em-barrassment of the past two weeks. However, our long-term ability to attract the next generation of talent to Kansas rests on the leadership of our governor and speaker of the House. It also rests on the ability of our fellow Kansans to select responsible legislators in the 2014 elections. We all can do a better job.

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