Kansas State University president Richard Linton said Tuesday the university formed an alliance with NetWork Kansas to provide economic development expertise to communities in all 105 counties. The program, “K-State 105,” is designed to aid small business startups and existing companies. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas State University launched a project to expand upon the traditional land-grant mission by aggregating entrepreneurial expertise to accelerate growth of business startups and existing companies in communities throughout the state’s 105 counties.
K-State president Richard Linton said the work would mesh with the university’s plan to create in Kansas 3,000 jobs and attract $3 billion in investment by 2030. This represents KSU’s response to a push by the Kansas Board of Regents to make state universities more robust drivers of economic activity. The university announced the “K-State 105” alliance with the nonprofit NetWork Kansas to give rise to a statewide economic development apparatus providing business owners with better access to expertise, education and economic resources.
“This initiative is truly reflective of K-State’s land-grant mission to build, support and improve Kansas communities and aims to improve the lives of all Kansans,” Linton said. “We firmly believe that if civic and community leaders are committed to locally driven growth strategies and are connected to a broad range of technical, business and support services, all communities can grow and thrive.”
Linton said KSU’s statewide extension service obligations in each county meant the university was “impeccably positioned to be a leader in strengthening and building new relationships.”
The entrepreneurial effort would seek to meet community needs tied to access to capital, childcare, housing, infrastructure and technology, he said.
Steve Radley, chief executive officer of NetWork Kansas, said 98.6% of Kansas businesses had less than 100 employees and those companies represented two-thirds of all jobs in the state. The statistics illustrate the imperative of shaping economic development activities to meet local community challenges, he said.
“If you think entrepreneurship isn’t important,” Radley said, “then you’re in the wrong state. Entrepreneurship and small business is the lifeblood of the state.”
K-State and NetWork Kansas recognized the distinction between needs of urban and rural counties by engaging in partnership agreements with the local economic development agencies Go Topeka and the Northwest Kansas Economic Innovation Center.
In Shawnee County, the objective would be to increase the number and quality of jobs in animal health, agriculture technology innovation and industries tied to both. The Innovation Center, a private foundation serving 26 counties west and north of Salina, intends to increase the region’s population, foster business innovation and attract new capital investment.
“Partnerships in economic development are vital to success,” said Scott Sproul, president of the Innovation Center. “We look forward to engaging with the K-State 105 program to help entrepreneurs, existing businesses and communities in northwest and north central Kansas achieve economic growth.”
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