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June 14th, 2021

ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

Economic development has been a hot topic for the past year and recently, Kansas was awarded a big  honor having to do with just that. 

Thursday, Gov. Laura Kelly announced the State of Kansas was honored for its commitment to excellence in economic development by receiving Area Development magazine’s coveted Gold Shovel award for 2021, the highest award given to a state.

The annual awards recognize states for attracting high-value investment projects that create a significant number of new jobs in their communities, according to a June 10 release from the State of Kansas. After previously winning Silver Shovel awards, Kansas now has collected the more prestigious Gold Shovel. Since 2019, Kansas has seen nearly $6 billion in new business dollars invested in the state, and nearly 26,000 jobs.

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“This Gold Shovel Award proves that even in the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic, Kansas can compete and win to recruit jobs and businesses across the globe,” Gov. Kelly noted in the release. “This award would not have happened without the strategic investments we have made since 2019 including fully funding our schools, starting more than 130 infrastructure projects, and expanding high speed internet access –  because business development is not possible without a strong foundation. In addition to the Gold Shovel Award, last year we broke the record for new business dollars invested in Kansas, and we are poised to break that record again in 2021. As the state’s lead economic development agency, the Department of Commerce works to help businesses and communities grow in Kansas. All business successes submitted for the Gold Shovel Award were supported by Commerce’s business recruitment team.”

“We have a new way of doing business in Kansas, and we’re getting results,” Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland noted in the release. “Kansas has set the standard for growth and recovery in the wake of COVID-19. We’ve applied our proven approach to attracting new businesses, and it’s led to one of the most successful capital investment streaks in the history of our state. This is what happens when an administration is serious about building a strong economy.”

The Kansas Department of Commerce worked with economic development organizations and partners across the state to select a sample of successful projects to submit for this award, with one of the successful projects being the Nor-Am facility in Dodge City. 

For Liberal, according to Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rozelle Webb, 2020 was a bit of a mixed bag from the Chamber of Commerce standpoint.

“Not too many people had a great year due to COVID-19 and other circumstances, but from the Chamber standpoint I would say overall, things ended up okay,” Webb said in a January 2021 L&T story. “There were some new businesses that got started in town and a few other good things that happened, so I would say overall, things were okay.”

Among all of the challenges, however, Webb said, there were some bright spots that helped. 

“Just like everywhere else, COVID-19 impacted how we were able to do some things. But we spent a lot of the year helping our businesses find support and other funding that was available, and we referred a lot of businesses to stimulus packages and other things like that so they had some of that help to get through everything,” Webb said in the January 2021 L&T story. “We also kept the public aware of businesses' alternative practices as far as hours and operation and things like that, which a lot of people appreciated. We also began our Shop Liberal campaign to help businesses and encourage people to shop in Liberal instead of automatically going to some online, out-of-state spot to do their shopping. If businesses didn't have the support they did this year, we would have lost several more businesses due to the pandemic. Ultimately, we didn't actually lose too many businesses, but as far as I'm concerned, one lost business is too many.”

Many new businesses have already cut the ribbon in Liberal in 2021, and Webb said she was happy to see the ribbon cuttings that took place in 2020. 

“The ribbon-cuttings for new businesses were another highlight for us this year because even with the way things were going, we still had multiple new businesses get started, and most of them happened the last part of 2020,” Webb said in the January 2021 L&T story. “Seeing that was really meaningful to me though because that showed me people wanted to invest in Liberal and had confidence in this community, so I'm very proud of all the people who started those businesses and decided to invest in Liberal. There were 14 ribbon-cuttings we did, and there was more than one dedicated to more medical purposes, which is great given how there's a health crisis going on. It was really inspiring to us, and it showed us and Liberal how there are people willing to invest, which is a great morale booster because a lot of people are feeling discouraged right now with everything going on. So with the new businesses coming in, it showed everyone change is possible and things like that are what helps a community.”

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