Media Release Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for Topeka and Shawnee County

A global marketing strategy, promoting the workforce in the region, and a community-wide visioning effort are among the key recommendations of a target market assessment of the Topeka MSA requested by the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce/GO Topeka. The comprehensive study, conducted by Competitive Strategies Group (CSG), an international economic development consulting firm, will be used to help update the Chamber/GO Topeka’s five-year Strategic Plan for 2008 through 2012.

“CSG did a commendable job of determining how GO Topeka must take our economic development efforts to the next level to reach our long-term goals,” says Andy Jetter, president and CEO of FHLBank Topeka, and newly elected chairman of the GO Topeka Board of Directors.

“We believe this five year update to our strategic plan allows us to assess business trends and changes in the world economy,” Jetter says.  “CGS is uniquely capable to provide insight and recommendations to us because of their broad client base and research capabilities.”

CSG’s report recommends marketing Topeka globally, and devoting more resources to recruit more companies, while focusing on these industry targets:

  • Warehousing and distribution, noting Topeka’s strong rail service, north/south and east/west Interstate access, and central location.
  • Shared services (transactional processing, customer support, and call center activities for insurance, financial, and computer software companies), noting the universities within 50 miles of Topeka, and calling this area the “Knowledge Corridor.”
  • Value-added food manufacturing (micro-waved, snack, and specialty foods like tortillas), noting the proximity to food growers, stability of the industry (not likely to move offshore), easy access to interstates and rail, and central location.
  • Business and Professional Organizations, noting the central location, labor supply from the “Knowledge Corridor,” and the recent relocation of the national headquarters of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) to Topeka.
  • Animal and Pet Food Manufacturing and Research, noting again the stable industry, proximity to food growers, strong transportation network, central location, and proximity to the “Knowledge Corridor” for research and development support.

These five targeted industries expand GO Topeka’s focus from their original focus five years ago.  The original Wadley Donovan Target Market Study in 2002 identified primary business prospects in the areas of office operations, mid-size light manufacturing, and mission critical facilities such as data centers, web hosting facility, and telecom switching center.

Besides attracting new businesses to Topeka, the report recommends finding solutions for local employers to retain and expand their existing businesses and to enhance workforce development activities, both to better meet employers’ workforce needs and to encourage graduates of area educational institutions to live and work in Topeka.

In order to implement the reports’ recommendations, the GO Topeka Board has determined their highest short-term priorities as recruiting a new Senior VP of Economic Development; implementing the recommended International Economic Development Council data standards for the Chamber/GO Topeka website and marketing material; implementing an economic development training process for volunteers and elected officials; and implementing a visioning process for Topeka/Shawnee County.   “I believe these are very important to our success,” says Doug Kinsinger, Chamber/GO Topeka president and CEO.  “Many of the other recommendations will be phased in as we have the input of the new Senior V.P."

The report describes Topeka/Shawnee County as being in the “epicenter of a highly educated population” and recommends GO Topeka work with the Topeka, Manhattan, and Lawrence communities, and the Kansas Department of Commerce to brand the region as the “Knowledge Corridor.”

The report says Topeka has the potential to be an “entrepreneurial community” but that Topeka first needs to invest more in venture capital and in “quality-of-life infrastructure.” A venture capital program, or more informal “seed capital initiative,” the report says, would expand the “level of opportunity for entrepreneurs.”

The report acknowledges that recent positive changes are strengthening and diversifying the economy, but that some “basic, preparative steps” should be taken to address areas of concern. A major concern addressed by the plan is “quality-of-life infrastructure,” including street beautification efforts, community entrances or gateways, and downtown revitalization—all necessary “if Topeka wishes to succeed in attracting higher wage jobs from office, technology, and the professional sectors.”  

In addition to economic development activities, Jay Garner, president of CSG said “the public sector must sweat the details regarding quality-of-life infrastructure. Topeka is competing with 18,000 other communities. Site consultants are looking for reasons to exclude communities from consideration.”

To make Topeka “more aesthetically pleasing and to enhance the overall attractiveness of the area,” Garner recommends that City and County governments “plan for a greater sum in their respective general budgets for quality-of-life infrastructure improvements.”

Likewise, the City of Topeka and Shawnee County should partner in enhancing the Keep Topeka Beautiful initiative, as part of the Keep America Beautiful organization and campaign, Garner says. Street-scaping and litter removal would add value to the community. “This is an absolute must if Topeka wishes to expand its options in the technology and office operation markets.”

Garner emphasized that GO Topeka funds should not be used for quality-of-life infrastructure improvements, but “should go only to the development of economic development product in Shawnee County,” such as speculative buildings and more business parks. While GO Topeka funds would help support community planning initiatives, such as “visioning,” riverfront redevelopment, and downtown enhancement, private and public entities would partner in infrastructure development, green space and park development, and façade improvements.

The report strongly recommends a community-wide visioning effort, with input from a cross-section of the community to help reach consensus on issues related to strategies for the community. Without such an effort, the report says, “development and resources will be piecemeal and decisions will be based most often on political expedience.”

Doug Kinsinger, President and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber/GO Topeka calls the plan “the most thorough, creative, yet pragmatic economic assessment we have undertaken. Plus, the implementation recommendations will insure that this strategy does not sit on a shelf to gather dust. The work of the CSG was outstanding and exceeded our expectations.”

“Especially intriguing about the report is its emphasis that Topeka—as a Midwestern capital city with lower housing and labor costs than the well-known high-tech clusters like Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin—can capitalize on an emerging outsourcing trend called ‘home-shoring,’” says Kinsinger. “The report points out that while most of the big cities and high-tech havens are idling after the ‘bubble burst’ five years ago, the ‘real entrepreneurial hotbeds are now on the periphery.’”  

To view Competitive Strategies Group’s PowerPoint presentation detailing their findings and recommendations, go to the Topeka Chamber web site www.topekachamber.org. Click on News, and then ED News.


Learn more >>