A key to Kansas’ economic recovery is having a business recruitment strategy that includes proactive leadership and involvement from the top.
The Department of Commerce recently told lawmakers that there has been more interest in recent months from businesses about locating in Kansas. Among the reasons that the department cited were new business recruitment staff and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses.
The department said the changing supply chain model and move towards online sales due to the pandemic contributed to the rise in interest.
While Kansas is uniquely situated as a distribution hub and I hope these companies seriously look at our state, we should be doing more. By attributing the increased recent interest to the pandemic, the commerce secretary is noting that outside forces played a large part in this rise.
While the department’s new business recruitment staff may have been helped by this does not take away from the fact that an unprecedented outside event played a huge role.
At the same time, I see where there is a lot more that our state can do to recruit businesses to our state. During the recent SpaceX launch, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt traveled to the Kennedy Space Center. Gov. Stitt made the trip to Florida to personally meet with Elon Musk and talk to him about why Oklahoma made sense for the new Tesla plant. This is proactive leadership coming from the very top of Oklahoma.
Gov. Stitt is not alone. Many governors, past and present, have made proactive business recruitment a personal part of their time in office. When Rick Perry was governor of Texas, he traveled across the country cold-calling business leaders.
When Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, he and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings were frequently shuttling back and forth to New York to sell Wall Street on Florida. One Wall Street CEO said in 2005 that she "greatly appreciated" that Bush and Jennings took a "personal interest" in her company’s decision to locate 500 jobs in Tampa.
The reason Kentucky recruited Toyota in the 1980s was due to the proactive cold-calling by then-Gov. Martha Layne Collins. Collins has said she multiple visits to Toyota in Japan to sell them on Kentucky, along with cold-calling other automakers. She had one of her top aides personally deliver papers to Japan about the state’s offer and she staged a dinner at the Governor’s Mansion to sell Toyota on Kentucky.
As a businessman, I have spent my career cold-calling other businesses to set up deals. These calls have allowed me to market my businesses’ strengths and build relationships. Relationships are key to driving business and recruiting business and cold calls are an opening. But you need leadership at the top.
The governor needs to starting these relationships and serving as a proactive voice to CEOs to open up those doors.
CEOs are receptive to cold calls and receptive to those who are looking for business because that’s their world. At the same time, they want to know that the top of the organization is in support. That why the governor needs to spend time investing in those relationships.
A cold call today can mean jobs tomorrow.
Wink Hartman is the CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita and the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.