July 20, 2024

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Commerce department excludes business owners from economic development committee

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Despite saying business leaders would be included, every member of a Department of Commerce steering committee for Kansas Framework for Growth, the newly announced plan to develop and grow business in the state, are either government employees or work for non-profits who are financed largely by government. Seven of the ten members of the steering committee are Commerce department employees; six of them work under Secretary of Commerce David Toland who ordered the economic development plan and Toland is also on the steering committee.

Commerce department officials initially ignored The Sentinel’s questions but the names were finally provided after filing a Kansas Open Records Request with the Department of Commerce.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Kelly administration said, “A steering committee of grassroots economic development professionals and business leaders were selected to work with state officials to guide the planning and development process.”

There is no one from the private sector, no small business owners, no corporate representatives, no manufacturing or agriculture workers to lend their respective experience to what it is actually like to run a business or attempt to start one in Kansas.

Ryan Brinker, Public Information Officer for the Department of Commerce, laid out the purpose and aim of the steering committee.

“The group monitors the progress of the project, ensures that the process stays on track and that deliverables are being met,” said Brinker.

To achieve the Kansas Framework for Growth, the Commerce Department hired McKinsey & Company as consultants for the report. The Sentinel reported on controversies surrounding McKinsey. Brinker notes that the steering committee will have no say over the action of McKinsey.

“The Steering Committee does not advise or direct the McKinsey staff,” Brinker said. (Emphasis is Brinker’s.)

Dave Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, which also owns The Sentinel, says the whole process seems designed to produce pre-determined conclusions and ignore what business owners really need.

“It’s a sham to say the steering committee doesn’t advise McKinsey.  As far as we know, Commerce staff alone developed the parameters of McKinsey’s $800,000 contract.  If the committee is only monitoring that the process stays on track, why include local government and other local government-connected employees but no business leaders?  And why even bother attempting to make it appear that business leaders will be involved?  It’s pretty clear that McKinsey will recommend more government spending and taxpayer subsidies, and ignore the need to reduce regulatory and other economic burdens to growth because that’s David Toland’s track record and it’s consistent with Commerce’s approach over the years.”

At the 2019 Kansas Economic Policy Conference hosted by the Institute of Policy & Social Research at the University of Kansas Secretary Toland discussed the need for transparency in regards to the policy plan.

“I think if we do this right in a way that is transparent and that is inclusive and that takes all perspectives across the spectrum, I think this will be a plan that will not only be adopted by embraced,” said Toland.

The call for transparency is notable given that The Sentinel asked the Department of Commerce as a part of the open records request if the McKinsey contract was put out for bid and if so how many companies bid on the contract. Commerce so far has refused to say whether the contract was put out to bid and instead referred us to the Kansas Division of Purchasing.

The steering committee members are as follows:

David Toland- Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary

Robert North— Kansas Department of Commerce General Counsel

Susan Neupoth-Cadoret- Kansas Department of Commerce Director of Business & Community Development

Alex Rice-Kansas Department of Commerce Director of Marketing & Communications

Trent Armbrust- Kansas Department of Commerce Director of Strategy

Abby Works- Kansas Department of Commerce Qualified Vendor Tax Credit Program Manager

Patty Clark- Kansas Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary

Blake Schreck-Economic Development City of Lenexa

Andrew Nave-Economic Development Greater Wichita Partnership

Christy Hopkins-Director Greeley County Community Development

Updates on The Sentinel’s Open Records request to confirm whether the McKinsey contract was put out to bid and who else may have submitted a bid will be provided as soon as the Commerce Department decides to or is compelled to respond.

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