TOPEKA — Kansas State University and NetWork Kansas announced a partnership on Tuesday that is expected to foster economic growth through entrepreneurship in all corners of the state.
In an announcement at the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka, leaders from KSU and partner organizations championed the K-State 105 Initiative, a nod to Kansas’ 105 counties.
The new initiative is part of the university’s Economic Prosperity Plan for Kansas, which aims to create 3,000 jobs and attract $3 billion in direct investment by 2030, Richard Linton, president of K-State, said in his remarks during the event.
“Building better communities, forming new partnerships, growing our economy, and creating jobs will all be a part of this K-State vision,” Linton said.
The partnership will connect state small businesses and entrepreneurs with university and community resources previously unavailable to them, Linton added.
Steve Radley, CEO of Network Kansas, noted how critical entrepreneurship and small businesses are to the state economy, as 98.6 percent of Kansas businesses employ fewer than 100 people, and those companies account for 67 percent of jobs throughout the state.
“Entrepreneurship and small businesses are the lifeblood of this state,” Radley said. “It is critical to the future of Kansas that entrepreneurs and communities are connected to those resources. The K-State and NetWork Kansas partnership will amplify, integrate and accelerate these efforts.”
Radley added that entrepreneurs and small businesses will be able to tap into NetWork Kansas’ 600 business-building services partners and 69 local entrepreneurship communities.
As part of the initiative, two Learn Together community partnerships have been established to address the distinct challenges in urban and rural communities.
Go Topeka, the urban partner, hopes to leverage the new resources to create a higher number and quality of jobs in Shawnee County, according to Laurie Pieper, vice president for entrepreneurship and small business.
“We’re really excited about developing Topeka as a hub for innovation by working together with regional partners,” Pieper said.
Much of that innovation will be in the areas of animal health, agtech, and manufacturing, Pieper added.
The Northwest Kansas Economic Innovation Center — which provides economic and entrepreneurial assistance to small businesses across 26 counties in northwest and north-central Kansas — will be the rural partner for the program.
Scott Sproul, CEO of NWKEICI, said that his organization sees how focusing on entrepreneurship happening in rural areas can benefit those regions.
“It truly is 105 counties,” Sproul said. “It’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs in every region of the state to be successful, to have an opportunity to create wealth in their communities. . . that creates opportunity that you just can’t imagine.”
Although the urban and rural partners will be charged with solving unique problems based on the needs of their communities, both are expected to focus on housing, childcare, and healthcare, according to a news release from the university.
All facets of the initiative, and most importantly building relationships and establishing trust, are “core functions” of what a land-grant university should provide for its state, Linton said.
“What more value can a land-grant university provide than building better communities, providing opportunities to grow our economy, and creating jobs?” Linton said.