Most people would be surprised to learn that airplanes, not wheat stalks, form the backbone of the Kansas economy.
In fact, the entire manufacturing sector has for decades been the biggest component of economic output in Kansas.
With two main manufacturing centers in Kansas City and Wichita, the state produces all manner of transportation equipment, whether it runs on highways or railways, or takes to the skies. Kansas City manufactures passenger vehicles, while Wichita churns out light aircraft and military planes, but also missiles and aircraft parts. Railroad cars and locomotives are also manufactured here.
Feeding off the raw might of agricultural output, food processing is also a key component of the economy, with flour-milling, animal feed production and a thriving meat-packing sector. Much of that is directly linked to the production of cattle and calves, which accounts for roughly 60 percent of agricultural output—five times the economic impact of the wheat production for which the state is famous, too. Kansas is the No. 1 wheat-producing state, pouring out 15 percent of U.S. wheat production, and most of it with the hard red winter variety.
Farming was the staple of the U.S. economy in the 19th century; manufacturing took over in the 20th. For the 21st century, Kansas is positioning itself as a key player in the life-sciences realm. In 2004, it created a state funding authority for bioscience development and primed that pump with more than half a billion dollars to spur creation of new companies that could broaden and diversify the economy.
As a result, the state has realized hundreds of start-up ventures, mainly clustered around the research assets of the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, the largest public university settings in Lawrence and Manhattan, and in Wichita. They deal in each strand of the life sciences triad: human health, animal health and plant science.
Underpinning all of that is a network of public and private universities with academic programming vital to those sectors and more, major research and acute-care hospitals, an outstanding quality of life and extreme affordability.
The latter may be the biggest driver of business success in this marketplace. That affordability allows residents to enjoy bigger and better homes here than they can in most other states, and certainly in most urban areas. Even in the urban centers of Kansas City and Wichita, housing prices are often as much as one-third of what one might expect to pay on the east or west coasts.
Result? Even with wages that are comparatively lower than national averages, Kansans enjoy a higher standard of living. The benefits to business ownership that flow from that are obvious to those who understand the role that labor costs play in production of goods or services.
The icing on that cake, for many, is the quality of life in Kansas. For many, that starts with an environment suited to raising a family, and the state’s system of K-12 public education for years has produced students who top the national scoring average on the American College Test. In 2011, Kansas posted an average score of 22.0, compared to the national mark of 21.1.
Recreational, cultural and entertainment opportunities, as well, add to the quality of life, as does a low overall crime rate and the elbow room—at 53 people per square mile, well below the national average of 84 per square mile. Lacking in mountains and beaches, the state nonetheless boasts a central location that can provide for quick getaways to Colorado and the Gulf Coast, but the east and west coasts are just two or three hours away by air. But Kansas has plenty of hunting, fishing and hiking opportunities, as well, plus major college football and basketball, and geographic affinity for various regional professional teams—in football, baseball, basketball or soccer—in Kansas City, Denver, Oklahoma City and Dallas, depending on which part of the state you call home.
Add it all up, and the Kansas marketplace is both stable and thriving, rural and urban, relaxed and invigorating—a great destination for anyone looking for a place to live, work and do business.