Flint Hills Regional Leaders Retreat group

People sit, converse and mingle Thursday during a break at the Flint Hills Regional Leaders Retreat at the Manhattan Conference Center.

Kansas’ biggest economic competitor is its eastern neighbor, according to one state leader.

Bill Murphy, deputy secretary of business development at the Kansas Department of Commerce, said the state loses most of its residents to Missouri for new jobs and other opportunities. Murphy spoke Thursday at the Flint Hills Regional Leaders Retreat at the Manhattan Conference Center.

The retreat took place Thursday and Friday at the Manhattan Conference Center. The annual retreat, put on by the Manhattan, Junction City and Wamego chambers of commerce, normally takes place in January, but it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not just anywhere in Missouri, but, honestly, mostly in the KC suburbs on the Missouri side of the border,” he said.

Kansas State University chief of staff Linda Cook said maybe one of the reasons why Kansas City, Missouri, is attracting residents across the border is because taxes are higher in Kansas.

“I’ve lived on the Kansas City, Missouri, side. Taxes are lower there,” she said.

Texas came in second after the Show Me state, Murphy said. Oklahoma was third.

“We’ve got to find ways to make everybody in the state of Kansas proud of who they are,” said Rep. Mike Dodson, R-Manhattan. “That translates to making everybody on both coasts understand what’s in Kansas.”

In 2019, the No. 1 state Kansans moved to was Missouri, according to Stacker, a data journalism organization. The entity reported 20,685 Kansans moved to Missouri in 2019. Texas was second, Colorado was third and Oklahoma came in at No. 4. The organization compiled data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Murphy spoke Thursday about the state and economic development during the first day of the retreat, which is put on by the Manhattan, Junction City and Wamego chambers of commerce. He said the state’s population isn’t growing, and although Kansas educates a lot of people at universities, students tend to relocate after graduation. Murphy said leaders and the state as a whole need to do a better job of marketing Kansas to the rest of the country and world.

“We’ve done a terrible job of talking about Kansas, both externally and to our own people,” Murphy said.

To keep students here, Cook said it’s important for Kansas to compete with other states by offering pay in line with what jobs in other states are offering.

Murphy also talked about successes in the Sunflower State. Site Selection Magazine named Kansas as the “Most Improved State” for economic progress from 2019 to 2020.

“I think that is a real testament to the kind of laser focus that the Lt. Gov., the Kelly administration and our economic development partners had, certainly with a revamped, reenergized department of commerce,” Murphy said.

There are 387 new potential projects coming to Kansas, Murphy said, with investors looking at the state. Murphy did not give details on what the new projects are.

“Now that’s not to say we are going to announce 387 projects in the next year,” he said. “This is simply a reflection of those projects that are in our pipeline.”