Touring southwest Kansas: Deputy Secretary of Commerce visits area cities

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Jonathan Clayton, left, Kansas In-State Business Development Southwest manager, Craig Vanwey, Regional Project Manager of the Kansas In-State Business Development Team, and Bill Murphy, Kansas Deputy Secretary of Commerce, are shown at Garden City Regional Airport Wednesday during a visit to Garden City.

Bill Murphy, Kansas Deputy Secretary of Commerce, has now visited southwest Kansas three times since he took office seven months ago.

Garden City was Murphy's stop Wednesday on a two and half day tour of the southwest area which also included Dodge City on Tuesday and Liberal on Thursday.

Murphy was joined on his tour with Craig Vanwey, manager of the Kansas In-State Business Development Team and Jonathan Clayton, Kansas In-State Business Development Southwest manager.

He and his companions met up with members of the Finney County Economic Development Corporation to get an overview of what's going on in Garden City.

Murphy said he tries to make rounds across the state twice a year and so far he's managed to hit about 80 percent of the state since he began as he Deputy Secretary. He likes to know what's going across the state.

"We have a local person in the various regions of Kansas, they report up to me, and I just like to better know the opportunities and challenges that we're seeing here in all parts of Kansas," he said.

Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the FCEDC, said she was glad to have Murphy stop by.

"It was a really productive day and it's always good to show our community to fresh eyes that haven't had the opportunity to see some of the growth that we've had," she said. "I'm really looking forward to working with them in the future as we continue to grow our economy."

Southwest Kansas continues to amaze him with the amount of manufacturing, food processing and agriculture that it has as it drives the economy of for the state, Murphy said.

The stop in Garden City and the update with the FCEDC was informative, Murphy said. They did a great job showcasing the community's assets, recent economic development projects and community development projects.

The latter is important for "painting an entire picture of what a community has to offer a prospective business," Murhpy said. 

Community growth over the past decade was something Murphy learned about that was surprising, specifically an increase in retail, manufacturing and overall job growth.

Murphy said that can be seen in the strong partnerships between public and private sectors, city and county government and the FCEDC. It's a good way to approach economic development.

"It's just great to see those kinds of relationships really help us compete and win more than our fair share of economic development projects," he said.

In his meeting with the FCEDC, Murphy said the most fascinating project he was informed of was the Childcare and Early Leaning Network.

When he got into the economic development business, Murphy never thought he would be talking or worried about childcare facilities, but it's become an issue across the state and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue.

Murphy was impressed with the model the FCEDC has developed because it not only seeks to help out those in the Garden City region, but the other communities across Kansas.

"Hats off to (Lona) and her team for focusing on that issue and really developing a playbook that other communities across Kansas can utilize to begin to address these issues in other parts of the state," he said.

Additionally, Murphy was updated on the impact COVID-19 had on Garden City.

The decisions Garden City made early on helped mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and served as an example to other parts of the state, Murphy said.

"I think they understood that they needed to set an example and I think the results are that they were able to, regrettably I think we talked about 49 deaths, but all-in-all they were able to kind of minimize the major spikes that we saw in other parts of the country," he said.

Murphy said he enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the communities in southwest Kansas.

"We've got some amazing, local economic development professionals in our state and I think that's nowhere more apparent than here in southwest Kansas," he said. "We've got some very strong, tenured economic development professionals who are really contributing to their communities and really helping us grow as a state."