As the founding chairman of the board of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County, a technology-based incubator, I was greatly disappointed to learn that the Kansas Legislature phased out the state’s support last year and apparently proposes to not continue funding this.
The county continues to do so. The reserve fund at the enterprise center has been exhausted.
The enterprise center was established in 1995 and has offered business assistance to hundreds of companies. Over the last 10 years, the enterprise center has worked intimately with 65 companies, raised $261 million in capital, created 1,093 direct jobs with an estimated $324 million in payroll, thus creating 2,380 indirect jobs with a projected wage total of $602 million and, with less than half of the companies reporting, recorded sales revenues of $206 million. The total economic impact is $1.4 billion in just 10 years!
With the county investment of $4.3 million and the state of Kansas investment of less than $2 million, frankly, this has been the economic development deal of a lifetime. The state of Kansas has been the major beneficiary of the enterprise center’s efforts. The annual economic impact of companies and jobs in sales, income and property taxes paid to state government far exceeds the investment made. Would that other job creation incentives were as successful as this has been.
It took a long time for the enterprise center to become a reality. Johnson County leaders (including a young company co-CEO with a small start-up called Garmin) knew that Johnson County was a huge entrepreneurial community. For many decades the county has generated almost 80 percent of the new company start-ups in Kansas. The enterprise center was one of the resources founded to assist that growth.
Until recently the funding for the enterprise center was a partnership between the state, the county and the private sector. The state and the county provided grants to fund the center and its programs, and the private sector supported the angel investor program.
Kansas can no longer work on economic development from the perspective that one size fits all. Not every community needs every program. With fewer resources to invest, it is imperative that the state work with local communities (who know best what will work) to provide specific tools and use partnerships to fund them.
Johnson County knew the enterprise center would be an asset, has proved it and should receive state funding. If our state’s elected leaders are really supporting the creation of good paying jobs as a top priority, how can they not strongly support this time-tested, proven program? The investment has worked.