Commerce Department helps add jobs

Views West
by Murrel Bland
The number of Kansans working today, about 1.4 million, is about the same number as those working before the “Great Recession” hit in 2007. That was the message that Dan Lara brought to the Congressional Forum at its monthly luncheon meeting at the Reardon Convention Center.
Lara, who handles public affairs for the Kansas Department of Commerce, was the featured speaker at the meeting. He was substituting for his boss, Pat George, who is Secretary of Commerce. George was attending to family business.
Lara is a former press secretary for Sam Brownback when he was U.S. senator. Brownback is now governor seeking his second term.
Lara told of various success stories of companies that the Department of Commerce has helped including two in Lenexa. They are Quest Diagnostics which will employ 500 persons and Grantham University that will employ 400.
The employment rate in Kansas in May was 4.8 percent compared to 6.1 percent this time last year, according to the Kansas Department of Labor. The unemployment rate in Wyandotte County for May was 7.8 percent.
The Commerce Department has launched the “KanVet” program that is an aggressive effort to employee military veterans. It asks private and public sector employers to take a pledge to help hire veterans; those who have taken the pledge include Country Club Bank, Kansas City Power and Light and Rental City. After businesses take the pledge, staff members from the Commerce Department work with businesses to link qualified veterans with job openings.
Lara also told of the Rural Opportunity Zone program offered in 73 Kansas counties. Such counties are authorized to provide a state income tax waiver for up to five years or to pay student loans up to $15,000 or both. To be eligible for the program, a person must establish residency in one of the 73 counties after July 1, 2011, live outside Kansas for five years previous and have earned less than $10,000 in each of the five years before coming to Kansas.
Lara said the program was successful in attracting engineering graduates, among other professionals.
Bob Kimball, a member of the Congressional Forum whose family was a longtime business owner in the Fairfax industrial area, questioned whether the program was fair to engineering students who were Kansas residents and graduates of the University of Kansas or Kansas State University; they would not be eligible.
I asked Lara if there was any possibility for an urban opportunity zone in Wyandotte County. I explained that Wyandotte County faces the same problem as many rural counties with the loss of population. Lara said such an urban program might be considered.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

Column: Ewing Kauffman’s influence remains

The Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce awarded the 2014 Small Business Awards at a luncheon on June 6 at Sporting Park. KCK Chamber Board Chairman Todd LaSala, left, partner at Stinson Leonard Street, presented the awards. With LaSala, from left, were Beth Hofer, Preferred Physical Therapy, small business of the year; Hector Dean, Agua Fina Irrigation and Landscape, new small business of the year; and Ann Brandau Murguia, Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, nonprofit of the year. (Photo from Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce)

Views West
by Murrel Bland
I attended the annual small business awards luncheon Friday, June 6, at the Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan. Wendy Torrance of the Kauffman Foundation was the featured speaker. She is the director of entrepreneurship, focusing on developing quality education that provides resources for people who will go into business for themselves.
As I listened to the presentation, I couldn’t help but recall the brief times that I covered Ewing Marion Kauffman, who founded and built a very successful pharmaceutical company, Marion Laboratories. Despite the very short times I was with him, he left a very significant influence on me.
I first met Kauffman in 1967 in his office in south Kansas City, Mo. I was working for The Big Daily Over Town; Kauffman was named as one of the potential owners of an expansion Major League Baseball teams. The newspaper needed a photo of Kauffman; he invited me into his conference room. He was negotiating the purchase of an Illinois pharmaceutical company. I don’t recall much of what was being discussed as I shot photos. The fellow who owned the Illinois company was bragging about the thoroughbred race horses he owned.
On Jan. 1, 1968, Betsey Transou (now Betsey Solberg) and I were at Kauffman’s Mission Hills home. Major League Baseball had just named Kauffman as the owner of what was to become the Kansas City Royals. Kauffman was entertaining a man who was a candidate to become his corporate pilot. I recall two things about that meeting. Kauffman was very proud to have been chosen to be the owner of the baseball franchise; he was very disappointed about a recent article about him that appeared in Time magazine. The article wasn’t inaccurate—Kauffman didn’t like the way he and his company were portrayed.
Although Kauffman was quite successful and wealthy, he was first generation money and wasn’t really accepted by some of his snooty “old” money neighbors in Mission Hills.
I admired Kauffman because of how he developed his company. After working as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company, he decided to go into business for himself in 1950. He started his company out of his home’s basement on Troost Avenue in mid-town Kansas City, Mo. His gross sales the first year were $36,000 with a net profit of $1,000. He merged his company in 1989 with Merrell Dow when the company had annual sales of nearly $1 billion.
I recall hearing Kauffman speak at a sales training session over town some time in the early 1970s. He told how he got to know the “gatekeepers” in medical doctors’ offices—the receptionists. He knew their names, their birthdays and their kids’ names. That is how he got in to see the medical doctors who would prescribe his products.
Kauffman told of how he chose sales personnel. He looked for competitive people—those who excelled at athletics—particularly swimming and track. And he set an excellent example.
“I’m a hell of a salesman,” Kauffman said.
Kauffman was an excellent salesman. And he attracted excellent sales personnel—that is the way he built his company. But he will be best known for establishing the Kauffman Foundation.
Kauffman and his philosophy is best summed up by this quote that appears on the Kauffman Foundation website: “ I think the greatest satisfaction I have had, personally, is helping others, doing something that either inspires them or aids them to develop themselves in their future lives so they’ll not only be a better person but be a better productive citizen of the United States.”
Those who won awards at the Chamber of Commerce meeting included the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, nonprofit of the year; AguaFina, new small business of the year; and Preferred Physical Therapy, small business of the year.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

Opinion: Vacant UG Commission seat should be filled

Window on the West

by Mary Rupert

It was more than a year ago that I was writing that an appointment was expected soon for the vacant Unified Government Commission, 1st District, at large seat. But it’s still not filled.

The commission last year deadlocked on selecting an appointment to the seat, with neither of two final candidates getting the required majority of votes. That’s a year and more that the north side of town has been underrepresented, and the south side of town has had one more representative than the north side during that time. It’s unbalanced, and it’s time to do something about it.

Different commission opinions on whether to continue trying to fill the seat do not always break down along geographical lines. For example, Commissioner Ann Murguia of the 3rd District, on the south side, stated she would be OK with bringing other candidates forward if the rest of the UG Commission is ready to vote. But, the whole issue appears to be on the back burner right now.

Some good ideas earlier, such as one from Mary Martin to put the appointment on the election ballot, were shot down by local officials because the UG charter did not allow that to be done.

Community activist Alvin Sykes is still trying to pry the UG out of its stuck-in-the-mud stance on the issue. He was in court again on Wednesday with Carolyn Wyatt’s lawsuit on the issue to see if any progress could be made toward getting an appointment to the position, but he said there was another continuance in the case.

The UG’s answer to Carolyn Wyatt’s lawsuit was that it was “discretionary” on its part whether to fill the vacancy. However, Sykes pointed out that the charter ordinance said the UG Commission “shall” make an appointment to fill the seat, which means it must do it. He mentioned cases of other cities where there was a tie vote having voted more than 50 times before finally reaching a decision, while Kansas City, Kan.,-Wyandotte County only tried to vote around four times, he said.

Sykes has come to the conclusion that the delays are “really more for political reasons.” There has been speculation that some of City Hall opposes both of the candidates who were finalists earlier. While the candidates were affected by the “none of the above” decision, also affected were residents who have one fewer representative who can vote in the district’s best interests.

“It’s not fair,” Sykes said. “And it sends the signal to the public that if they let this go this long and do not address it, the at-large seat is not necessary to have. They’re not expressing a sense of urgency to fill it. But if you don’t need a 1st District, at-large position, why do you need a 2nd District, at-large?”

Let’s face it. It’s been a year and more. Wyandotte County had plenty of time to either vote for one of the two nominees until one is selected; or to start the process over and consider other candidates; or to change the UG charter ordinance and select another method of settling the issue, such as a coin toss or a special election at the polls.

The fact that the seat has been allowed to be vacant, perhaps until the spring 2015 local elections, is an insult to all residents living in the 1st District, at large, who deserve to have representation.

If you want to try to pry the UG out of its stuck position on this issue, just contact your commissioners or the mayor’s office (573-5040,, 573-5010, ) and voice your opinion.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email