SUNDAY, AUGUST 6, 2017
The plan to improve Topeka and Shawnee County
2 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Momentum 2022: Systems go for Jan. 1 launch By Morgan Chilson
Matt Pivarnik came to Topeka in early 2016 to lead the city’s chamber and economic development agencies. One of his first tasks was to raise money for the economic development program because investment ran out at the end of 2017. “My first question was, ‘What are we raising money for?’” Pivarnik recalled recently. “What are we going to tell these private sector investors that we’re going to do? What’s the ROI (return on investment)? The answer was economic development, we’re going to do economic development. But specifically what is the money for?” Through those conversations, city and county economic development leaders decided to hire Atlanta-based Market Street Services to lead a fourpart initiative — community engagement, regional scorecards and community assessment, holistic economic development strategy, and implementation. Momentum 2022 was born. Initially named the Topeka-Shawnee County Holistic Development Strategy, a 43-member steering committee guided the work through months of listening, absorbing varied opinions about the city’s future, considering strategy. The result now is the pre-implementation stage of a massive plan, found online at www.topekashawneecountystrategy.com. Implementation begins Jan. 1, 2018. “If you read the plan as a book, it seems very aspirational and almost scary,” Pivarnik said. “A lot of times you’ll see community-wide plans like this and they’ll have catchy names with dates like 2050 or 2030. This doesn’t. This is Momentum 2022. It’s taking a five-year period of time and saying we’re going to make an impact in five years. I think it holds us a lot more accountable. “But I think it’s also eating the elephant one bite at a time over 60 months,” he added. “It’s incremental progress. It’s less scary and seems more doable over the five-year period of time.” The plan doesn’t just tackle Topeka challenges from a narrowly defined concept of economic development. In years past, the term referred to bringing in new employers and new jobs. Recently, it’s expanded to addressing quality of life and quality of place. “It was really the community that said we really feel like this needs to be bigger and wider and deeper in scope than just GO Topeka,” Pivarnik said. For instance, child poverty is an issue raised by Market Street, said Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler, who cochairs Momentum 2022 along with Keith Warta, of Bartlett & West, and Mayor
Five Goal Areas of Momentum 2022
1. Develop homegrown talent. 2. Create vibrant and attractive places. 3. Grow a diverse economy. 4. Promote a positive image. 5. Collaborate for a strong community.
Seven work groups supporting Momentum 2022 work
1. Talent development 2. Quality of place 3. Downtown and NOTO 4. Entrepreneurship 5. Economic development 6. Marketing 7. Community engagement, pride and service Larry Wolgast. “I think that’s important that this group felt that we needed to improve that, and that’s what we’re going to be held accountable to,” she said. “Total poverty rate, that’s just as important. Then looking at per capita income, net migration, percentage of associate’s degrees — again, it’s a holistic look at this community and how all of us can improve our quality of life. I think that’s pretty important.” Quality of place or life mean different things to different people, and Buhler said the steering committee heard “loud and clear” that the discussion has just begun. “I think it was really important for us to listen, and I think that the strategies reflect some really intense work that we have to do to improve our community,” she said. Momentum 2022 is getting organized now, preparing to charge into 2018 to begin making a difference. “We set out goals,” Warta said. “There are actions that need to take place during this phase, and one of the big ones was hiring our strategic coordinator, Kayla (Bitler).” Bitler recently joined the chamber and GO Topeka staff, tasked with the responsibility for coordinating the multilayered and complex process that makes up Momentum 2022. In other words, she’ll be directing how the elephant will be eaten. “We’re holding ourselves accountable to implementation,” Pivarnik said. “This will not be a plan that sits on the shelf and gathers dust. She’s our auditor.” While it’s obvious significant issues like poverty won’t be fixed by 2022, Bitler said the implementation plan, which isn’t expected to be made public, offers specific steps to take, month by month through 2022. When Momentum launches in January, a new website will launch as well, Bitler said. Those initial reports identified five areas of focus, or pillars: develop
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Momentum 2022 strategic coordinator Kayla Bitner will be charged with coordinating the complex program.
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Momentum 2022 is helping county residents take a fresh look at Topeka and the surrounding community through a series of initiatives aimed at improving economic development, quality of life and quality of place. homegrown talent, create vibrant and attractive places, grow a diverse economy, promote a positive image, and collaborate for a strong community. One step being done now is to create seven workforce groups to support the five goal areas. “I think it’s important that everybody understands this is just the start,” Warta said. “We’re going to have more and more groups, but we just decided that these are the strategies and actions that we want to do first. They’re the highest priorities, so we need to have workgroups formed around those strategies and actions. And so that’s what we’re doing first.” A communication strategy will be an important part of the group’s efforts going forward, so the community stays apprised of plans, Buhler said. “There’s going to be a communications plan to get this information, not only the data but the engagement, out to the community,” she said. “I think you’re going to see better collaboration and the fact that we’re going to work on common goals.” Four organizations, in particular, will be reinforcing their collaborative efforts: Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, GO Topeka, Visit Topeka and Downtown Topeka Inc. Buhler said she expects continued widespread involvement from community organizations, leaders, individuals, business people and others, down to the neighborhood level. Wolgast is excited to see the community get engaged and come together, which he’s already seen in action through the first phases of Momentum 2022.
May 2017 File Photo/The Capital-Journal
Conversations initiated by Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Pivarnik led to Momentum 2022, a four-part initiative to spur economic development, quality of life and quality of place. Knowledge about potential changes that can happen in Topeka through the holistic strategy is beginning to pop up everywhere. In two recent group discussions, people mentioned the program. “They’re saying, ‘Well, this would be helpful to have a community-wide effort on it, such as quality of life,” he said. “We all have our own thoughts of what can be done, but I think
what we have lacked is that community-wide engagement. We can come together on something and work on it and have everybody be a part of that, rather than different elements going out and doing their own thing.” Cohesiveness, collaboration, engagement, all are action-oriented ways of pulling Topeka together to tackle real and tough issues. “I think that ties into
the very start of this whole process, where we decided that it’s the community’s responsibility for economic development,” Warta said. “It’s not just one organization’s responsibility. It’s everybody’s responsibility to retain businesses, to attract new businesses, to retain families within our community. We’re one big team, and we’ve got to make Topeka attractive to everybody.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 3
4 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
photographs by Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Keith Warta, president of Bartlett & West; Shelly Buhler, Shawnee County commissioner; and Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast worked together to chair the Momentum 2022 initiative.
Tri-chairs’ challenge: Change must involve all By Morgan Chilson
A city leader, a county leader and a businessman walked into a meeting with different outlooks, ideas and concerns. Sounds like the beginning of a (probably bad) joke, but it’s actually the beginning of an effort that is focused on taking vastly different perspectives, underpinned by data and research, and making good things happen in Topeka. Momentum 2022 — initially called the TopekaShawnee County Holistic Economic Development Strategy — launched in 2017 and has been chaired by Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler, Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast and Bartlett & West leader Keith Warta. The tri-chairs led a steering committee of 43 people who diligently worked for months to get through three phases guided by Market Street Services, an Atlanta-based consultant hired in 2016 to develop the plan. First was community engagement, then regional scorecards and community assessment, and finally the creation of a holistic economic development strategy. All three, apparently gluttons for making community change and finding consensus, elected to keep their tri-chair positions through the fourth phase, the implementation stage that kicks off Jan. 1, 2018. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen in a community development initiative or strategy, three community leaders work together as cohesively as these three have worked together,” said Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “To have a county leader, to have a city leader, to have a corporate leader — the philanthropy of their time — they’ve dug in,” he said, working to find words to express his thoughts. “Market Street actually said they’re not sure they’ve ever seen a group of community leaders take their roles as seriously and dig in and work together as effectively as these three have.” That commitment made all the difference to the long process that has required the integration of varying opinions from the city and county. Each tri-chair brought their respective positions to the Momentum 2022 table and their personal views.
“I’ve got kids that I want to live in this community, but bigger than that, I talk with other parents who want their kids to stay in this community,” Warta said. “I think it’s a personal issue to a lot of people in that regard. I care about this community. I want it to prosper. I want it to be a place where people want to stay. From my professional standpoint, we need to have a community that attracts people to our community, attracts talent to our community so that we can fill jobs, so that we’ve got professionals and people that want to live here in Topeka for the sake of the businesses that operate here so they can grow. It’s all tied together.” Wolgast, who is finishing his second term as the city’s mayor, is pleased to be a part of an action-oriented plan. “I think as an elected official, you’re faced with these types of things all the time, and you’re frustrated,” he said. “It’s difficult to make change. We all know what we want Topeka, Shawnee County to be. How do we achieve that? This is the best, by far, plan to achieve that we’ve ever had. So we want to be a part of it.” Buhler agreed from her position as a county leader. “You’re meeting twice a week as that county commission,” she said. “That’s important work, but I’m a firm believer that the most important work you do as a commissioner is those times between meetings, going out and engaging with the community. Hopefully you’re building that willingness in the community to have people get involved. I just hope that our work is an example that we care and that we want to see this community grow.” The strategy, outlined in a 63-page report titled “Topeka-Shawnee County Holistic Economic Development Strategy,” isn’t an easy fix to the challenges Market Street helped delineate. But even with tough issues, such as changing the way Topekans think about their city, the strategy got a big thumbs up from the steering committee, Pivarnik said, adding that it continued to amaze the Market Street reps. “The strategy actually had a 96 percent consensus from the steering committee saying this is our final strategy,” he said. “I expected it to be 80. Market Street had never seen that much consensus in a steering committee before. So the group, after being
Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler brings a passion for community involvement to her role as one of the tri-chairs for Momentum 2022.
Keith Warta, president of Bartlett & West (left); Shelly Buhler, Shawnee County commissioner; and Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast took leadership roles in creating Topeka’s holistic economic development strategy, which gave birth to Momentum 2022. together for eight months, they were pretty copacetic that this was the strategy going forward.” The composition of the committee, which is large by most standards, was a significant part of creating a comprehensive end product, Wolgast said. “In all of my years of being involved in community work, programs, anything like this, I’ve never seen one that was more diverse
and certainly every aspect of the community, we hope, was represented,” he said. “I think that gave confidence going forward.” Buhler agreed. “I think the diversity on the steering committee helped give voice to a lot of different groups in the community that maybe had not had a voice,” she said. “But I think we heard loud and clear that this is the beginning of that dis-
cussion. We have to listen.” Although the tri-chairs share enthusiasm for the goals of Momentum 2022, they aren’t without concerns about meeting expectations that will be outlined as the implementation stage starts Jan. 1, 2018. Key to the success will continuing to involve a wide variety of organizations, Warta said. “This isn’t just about the implementation committee or Matt (Pivarnik) or Kayla (Bitler, strategy coordinator),” he said. “It’s about the library. It’s about United Way. It is a little scary to look at the plan in totality, but understand there’s going to be different bites and chunks that the organizations are going to take possession of.” It is a little scary because the changes aren’t surface, easy-to-make shifts. They’re taking deep looks at attitudes, diversity, inclusion, poverty and subjects such as why people choose to live in Lawrence when they work in Topeka. For Warta, coming from
the position of an executive with a strong company, the workforce issues present challenges. “One of the major goals in the plan is to develop that homegrown talent,” he said. “I think through this whole process, we realized we’ve got a great educational system here in Topeka. We’ve got great training assets within the community. It’s just a matter of coordinating everything such that we’re getting folks trained, getting the talent trained and educated here and then keeping them here.” The backbone committee of workforce development is called the cradleto-career committee, he said. Wolgast, too, acknowledged the complexity the group faces in making change. “These are not little simple things we do this year and it’s done,” he said. “There’s no plan out there to decrease childhood poverty. The process is probably the key, that we can get this and it is step-by-step that will happen. The expectations can’t be too high. They have to be attainable on a regular basis.” The word “attainable” strikes a chord with Pivarnik, who admitted to being concerned about how fast the group can “move the needle.” “With a short timeframe, some of these metrics — growing population, increasing community perception, increasing community pride — how fast can we make those metrics move? The moves we’re making today, are they going to have an impact in ’19 and ’20 and ’21? I hope we can defy the odds and actually have positive movement on the metrics.” Ultimately, it’s all about the people, and not just the tri-chairs. “It you’re sitting at home and you’re trying to decide how does this impact me — it should impact you,” Buhler said. “It should touch you so that you want to do something, that you can inspire your church to do something, that you can inspire your school to do something, your business, your nonprofit. “It’s not just a small group of people that are responsible for this plan,” she said. “It might be our responsibility to keep it going, but it’s going to take an impact from a large amount of people, the whole community, to really achieve that success.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 5
6 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
BY THE NUMBERS By Morgan Chilson
n 2,295 Momentum 2022 survey respondents n 7 Focus Groups n 6 Steering Committee Meetings n 77.4 percent — Students in Topeka Public Schools receiving free and reduced lunches in the 2013-14 school year, more than 30 percentage points higher than the rate in any other school district serving Topeka-Shawnee County. n 41 members of the Momentum 2022 steering committee n 8.8 percent — How much finance and insurance sector jobs increased in Shawnee County from 2005-2015 n-4.1 — How much the same sector jobs dropped in U.S. from 2005 to 2015 n $41,263 — Per capita income in Shawnee County in 2014 n 32.2% — How much per capita income in Shawnee County increased from 2004 to 2014
East Topeka Learning Center n 15,350 main level square footage n $240,000 site purchase price n $5,800,000 total acquisition & project budgets Photography by Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 7
8 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
photographs by Emily DeShazer/The Capital-Journal
Visit Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce have located their marketing staffs in a space affectionately called the “war room.” The setup encourages collaboration. From left are Rhett Flood, Jes Dawkins, Jared Hitchens, Matt Lara and Jensen Moore.
Topeka economic development organizations share space, ideas, focus on collaboration By Morgan Chilson
“Collective action” is a key phrase in the Momentum 2022 strategy, creating goals for change in which multiple organizations and individuals work together. Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka, understands the value of collaboration to make things happen. Along with leaders of Visit Topeka, Downtown Topeka Inc. and Heartland Visioning, he is focused on ensuring they work toward common goals. “Right now, there’s a spirit of collaboration and participation from the organizations,” he said. “We’re bringing the organizations together within the community so they’re focused on strategy.” Although the organizations already work closely, Vince Frye, president and CEO of Downtown Topeka Inc., said pushing collaboration will help Topeka accomplish its goals. “It’s nothing that’s very unusual that we’re all talking and cooperating,” he said. “But when we all are putting out the same messaging and establishing the brand that we want our community to be, then it becomes certainly more cohesive, and it’s more of a powerful message because it has all of backing and support of these organizations and the people that are members of those organizations.”
Momentum 2022 is a sign of what the community wants, collectively, to be, Frye added, and it will help to speak the same language and work for that purpose. The organizations are focused on economic development, Pivarnik said, but that doesn’t always mean approaching issues in the same way. “At the very root of anything we do, we’re creating economic prosperity for the region,” he said. “We already work very closely together, and we’re good teammates. But sometimes it feels like – here’s a sports analogy. This is basketball country. We’re like a basketball team that we all practice individually throughout the week, then we come together on Saturdays and play a game. I believe all these organizations are good organizations, so we would be good basketball players. But the more we practice together and the more we partner with one another, the better we’re going to be able to actually play the game together.” A first step has already been taken. In recent months, the Visit Topeka and chamber/GO Topeka marketing teams relocated to work side by side in a conference room at the Visit Topeka office. It’s affectionately called the “war room.” Pivarnik is thrilled to tap into the expertise at Visit Topeka, where he believes staffers bring skills that weren’t as strong in his team.
Right now, there’s a spirit of collaboration and participation from the organizations. We’re bringing the organizations together within the community so they’re focused on strategy.” Matt Pivarnik
president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka
“I found myself being a proud of how good they were, and then maybe a little envious that I didn’t have the access to that type of marketing and communications sophistication,” he said, laughing. “Most of their marketing is external. Their creativity and then their analytics — when they do social media marketing, they can actually break down the analytics for us.” As the organizations discuss and share strategies, it’s also clear some of their work overlaps, though Visit Topeka markets more to meeting planners and GO Topeka markets to location consultants and companies. “If you’ll look the reason that people visit a community and the reason that people live in a community, seven of the top 10 reasons that people live in a community are the same seven of the top 10 reasons that people visit in a community,” Pivarnik said. “Really the marketing messages are not that much different.” Merging the marketing teams allows both organizations to tap into economies of scale, although each might tailor brand
The conference room where staff from Visit Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce are working isn’t completely set up, but Jared Hitchens (left) and Jes Dawkins have created a corner office where they share space and ideas.
messages for their specific situations. Messaging and brand consistency are key, Pivarnik said. When the chamber hosted an inter-city visit to Des Moines in 2016, one of the top comments from attendees was how speakers from various places across the community, doing different jobs, all used similar terminology and messages. In Des Moines, the economic development organizations have maintained their individuality but have also merged under an umbrella organization, the Greater Des Moines Partnership. While it looked like those Des Moines leaders may have just picked up the same phrasing, it’s about more than the message, Pivarnik said. “Is it as much the same message, or is it that everybody is rowing in the same direction, with the same strategy and aspiring to the same goals?” he said. “I think it comes out in messaging, but they all understand the goals.” Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said the 130-yearold organization under-
went changes in 1999 when it merged over a few years with three other economic development organizations to create a unified mission. “When it came together, the discussions were we shouldn’t have multiple organization doing some of the same things,” he said, adding that the mergers were led by strong local, private-sector leaders. The group also created an affiliate program through which they reached out to chambers in the area and created dual membership options and began to work together on economic development as a region, Byers said. Today, they have 23 affiliate chambers, making them the fourth-largest chamber in the country, with 6,000 regional members. Although the Topeka area doesn’t have the same population base as Des Moines, working as a region to create messaging and economic development goals is something Pivarnik is pursuing by meeting more frequently with leaders in Manhattan and Lawrence. “We call that KRN, Kansas Research Nexus. Right now we’re breathing new life into that,” he said. “It’s been around for a long time, but it’s ebbed and flowed, especially with changes in leadership. We actually met as a group 30 days ago. What we’re trying to do is figure out how we can do a marketing initiative together. From a legislative standpoint, we have what we call METAL, which is Manhattan, Emporia, Topeka and
Lawrence. We share a legislative agenda together.” Merging multiple organizations to create a collective vision wasn’t without challenges, Byers said, although he was in the community and not GDP’s leader at the time. Each organization was careful to protects its interests. “I think the key with what happened here and what you’re working on are what are the best parts of these organizations? How do you maximize those resources to be with common messaging and common goals? That’s hard. It takes a lot of work to synthesize all of that,” he said. “Like any negotiations, you’ve got to come in and give a little bit and come in protecting what you think is most important, and when you come out the other side of the negotiations, everybody ends up stronger.” Pivarnik already is seeing the benefit of creating a message, and it’s simply the depth at which Momentum 2022 is starting to be part of conversations, even before the official launch and name-change from the Topeka-Shawnee County Holistic Economic Development Strategy. “The phrasing is coming up,” he said. “As I’ve met with aspiring elective leaders, they all walking in here saying ‘We’ve read Momentum 2022,’ and they’re familiar. This plan, this strategy, has become a Topeka household name very quickly. I’m actually surprised at how fast people are shifting.”
Members hope to create an efficient office space. They are working in an open-air environment to encourage collaboration.
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 9
10 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Kayla Bitler to coordinate, lead initiative By Morgan Chilson
Picture Momentum 2022 as a large machine with gears, levers and conveyor belts moving in seemingly chaotic ways but steadily working toward a collaborative end product. The multifaceted plan designed to move Topeka forward on issues as varied as workforce, education, community health and entrepreneurship needed someone to coordinate the process, greasing the squeaky cogs and keeping all the parts moving. Enter Kayla Bitler. On June 2, she began working at the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka as strategic coordinator for Momentum 2022. The purpose of her job, she said, is simple: “To make things happen.” “Really, just to get all of the groups and organizations that currently exist to work together and maybe work with some new organizations,” said Bitler, 29. “But just getting them all to communicate and work together to help further Topeka’s development.” Bitler sat down with The Topeka Capital-Journal to talk about Momentum 2022 and introduce herself to the Topeka community. What drew you to economic development? In my involvement in the hospitality industry, I was president of the Topeka Lodging Association. The Topeka Lodging Association over the course of the last year or so has been involved with the downtown plaza. So I was in a situation where I was attending city council meetings and spoke to the council a few times, going to plaza development meetings. I got really excited about doing something bigger. What do you think is the biggest challenge in your new position? Probably the biggest challenge is that there is no authority in what I’m doing. If there is a group or an organization that might
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Kayla Bitler, strategic coordinator at GO Topeka and Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, is tasked with keeping the Momentum 2022 project moving forward. be well-intentioned but is just getting really off track or really working opposite of the rest of the group, I don’t have any authority to firmly tell them no. I mean, I will go and I will influence, and I
can speak and I can present, but I can’t just say no. You’ve only been on the job a short time, but what’s your favorite thing so far?
What I love so far is getting to meet different people, and so many people. I had no idea that so many people had so many different passions about Topeka. And it’s been, it sounds cheesy, but it’s
been heartwarming to meet those people and to hear their stories. Recently, the general mood BITLER continues on 11
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 11
Bitler: Coordinator’s strength, experience in project management Continued from 10
n Title: Strategic coordinator for Momentum 2022 n Hometown: Eureka n Education: Washburn University, business administration n Leadership quality: Results oriented with a “get it done” attitude n Favorite thing to do in Topeka: Go to downtown festivals with family
in Topeka seems to be that things are finally happening. Why are we hearing that so much these days? I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s a combination of the right voices in the community really speaking up and really taking action to make that true. I think that it’s also – I think Matt (Pivarnik) here, I think he has provided a lot of energy for the community to really propel that forward. He’s a doer, which I appreciate very much. I’m a doer, and I’m here and I have this plan, and I have absolutely every intention of making sure that this plan gets completed.
engagement, and pride and service.) Who will be on the work groups? The way that the work groups are formed is we extend the invite to everybody on the implementation committee. The hope is that everybody will find a passion within one of the work groups. In addition to those members, the individual work groups will reach out to people who either have a business that relates to a certain work group or an interest — a stake — in it. Many of the partner organizations for the work groups, they may be a partner organization for the whole next five years as this plan works itself out, or they only be a partner organization for one particular objective, maybe what’s most relative to them.
What do you consider your leadership qualities? I’m very results-oriented. I’m not necessarily a big talker. That doesn’t mean that I won’t go present and speak and have a conversation, but I have a tendency to get impatient with conversation after a certain point. I just want to get things done. But that’s good. After I took this job, the strategy was formed. The conversation was over. And now it’s time to do. I think that’s what makes me a good match for this. What do you do when you’re not at work? I spend time with my kids. They are 5 and 7-and-¾ as he says. Both boys. Our favorite thing to do together is go visit my parents (in Eureka). They live on a farm, so there’s farm animals and water activities. Mom and Dad put a slide off of the dock of the pond last year, so we spend a lot of time in the water. How did that life impact who you are today? You learn a lot about work ethic. It’s funny, Matt likes to talk about work-life harmony and how that’s really an important thing to have. To me, when you grow up on a farm, your work is your life and your life is your work. To me, that conversation is well, yeah, of course, because how else would it be. How else can it be? Do you have any hobbies? (Silence.) Their (the kids’) hobbies become your hobbies. My hobbies are practicing a sport or watching a sport or fishing. Oh my gosh,
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Results will be the metric by which strategic coordinator Kayla Bitler will judge her performance with the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and Go Topeka. we fish all the time. How would you describe yourself to someone who had never met you? I would describe myself as a very driven individual that likes to see projects through to completion. What is your favorite thing to do in Topeka? My favorite thing to do in Topeka is attend festivals downtown with my family. We’ve gone to almost all of them, but Winterfest was great, Cyclovia. Both of my kids rode with me in the night ride. It was a blast. I have a tandem bike attachment that my 5-year-old rode behind, and then
my 7-year-old, he has this ball of energy within him, and he just shot off. Let’s talk about Momentum 2022. The first two phases included community engagement and assessment, which resulted in the strategy. Now we’re moving into implementation, right? The strategy is really fleshed out. The first objective is develop homegrown talent, for example. Then it goes into aligning the talent pipeline and why that’s important. Then it specifically says create a cradle-to-career collective impact partnership, and it’s got some notes and potential actions.
The difference between the strategy and implementation plan is the implementation plan puts some who’s in it and it puts some whens in it. The who’s doing it and the exactly when it is getting done. That’s what’s sort of flexible. As the process went on from the five pillars (initially outlined), they were actually split into seven different work groups. Right now we’re in the process of forming exactly who’s going to be on those work groups. (Editor’s note: The seven work groups are talent development, quality of place, downtown and NOTO, entrepreneurship, economic development, marketing and community
That sounds like a lot of organization that has to come from you. It’s a little bit overwhelming. (Laughing.) One of my co-workers here likes to joke that my job is like herding cats into a bathtub. Jokes aside, the good thing about it is that of all of the different organizations and individuals that are interested in this plan, interested in the success of Topeka, they’re all well-intentioned. Most of them are willing to work very hard, and it’s my job to just make sure that they’re all just focused in the right way and they’re all working toward the same goals so that we can accomplish more. Collaboration, then. Is that one of your strengths? My history is in project management. I worked in the hotel industry, and I oversaw multiple properties. Any sort of property renovations or property initiatives that are brought on by the brand, those were my responsibility to oversee, and some of those properties were in other states.
12 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Initial Market Street report highlights challenges By Tim Hrenchir
Reports generated by a consultant hired to help Topeka map out its future are brimming with statistics — some that paint a grim picture — and plans to attack the community’s challenges. The first 64-page “Community Assessment and Regional Scorecard” pulled no punches, and yet it also highlighted the feelings of hope many are feeling about rebuilding Topeka. Streetscaping on Kansas Avenue, planned private developments in downtown and the construction of the Midwest Health Aquatic Center have all generated optimism, said people surveyed for the report put out by Atlanta-based Market Street Services, a national economic, communmity and workforce development consulting firm. “Input participants said that these developments have already had a small positive impact on overall internal perceptions in the community,” the document said. “Some stakeholders described feeling for the first time that there is a ‘real energy’ in the community and that ‘things are happening.’” Market Street Services spoke bluntly in the report about Topeka’s problems, saying it seriously lacks community pride. But the document also proposed solutions. Those included enhancing this community’s “quality of place,” using its existing strengths to increase economic opportunity and working to keep talented young people from moving elsewhere. The report resulted from work done by the Topeka-Shawnee County Holistic Economic Development Strategy Steering Committee. The consultants sought to thoroughly assess the Topeka community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges by acquiring public input that included interviews, focus groups and an online survey. A total of 2,295 people responded. The survey statistically compared Topeka-Shawnee County with state and national averages, as well as averages for three counties with which it shares similar characteristics and/or competes for investment and jobs. Those are Polk County, Iowa, which includes Des Moines; Sangamon County, Ill., which includes Springfield; and Minnehaha County, S.D., which includes Sioux Falls. The report identified what it described as “six key stories” that present a narrative discussion of the key issues facing Topeka and Shawnee County. It started by describing what it called
The first phase of a community assessment from Market Street Services outlined issues Topeka and Shawnee County residents need to work on.
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
An initial Market Street study found among Topeka's biggest challenges is a lack of community pride.
The second phase of Momentum 2022 outlined the six key narratives facing community members. “A critical need to improve community pride.”
The report said one single issue — the community’s deep and persistent low morale — relates to nearly every other aspect of its competitiveness. “This was by far the most common and
troubling theme to emerge” from the public input process, the report said. It suggested the negativity discourages many of this community’s young people from staying here into adulthood. The report indicated 56.1 percent of those polled said it was “not likely” their children would remain in the community once they’re grown, compared with 10.4 percent saying that was “very likely.” The report sought to contextualize the following five stories it shared by ending each with a discussion of “Key Takeaways and Strategic Implications” targeted at helping the community transition from understanding into action and, when possible, pessimism into optimism.
Threats to the workforce
Topeka-Shawnee County has seen slower population growth over time than the state, the nation and many similar communities, the report noted. It said survey respondents expressed concern that the community was losing its best and brightest to other places, notably Lawrence and the Kansas City area. “Much more than the ‘topline’ population growth figure, factors such as migration patterns, age dynamics, and educational attainment trends suggest that CHALLENGES continues on 14
Topeka p in
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 13
The East Topeka Learning Center, 2014 S.E. Washington St., is expected to be fully operational by the fall of 2019 and is meant to address an “education desert” in East Topeka. It will provide post-high school courses, such as opportunities for GED testing and other certificate programs.
Focus on East Topeka expected to benefit area By Lily Abromeit
Alonzo Harrison began brainstorming ways to improve East Topeka 20 years ago. Now, with the Momentum 2022 strategic planning initiative’s focus on the area, he says he is excited about improvements that seem to be on the way. “I think it’s an initiative that started a lot of years ago and I’m hopeful that if we can make this happen we can show the citizenry of East Topeka that there is a concern in investment in their part of the city,” said Harrison, owner of HDB Construction in Topeka and a GO Topeka executive board member. Kayla Bitler, strategic coordinator for Momentum 2022, an initiative meant to support economic developments in Topeka, said most objectives aren’t focused on one particular region of the city but are meant to be implemented city- and countywide. But bringing extra attention that part of the city was a concern raised during community engagement in building Momentum 2022. “I think there’s been a concern for many years, as long as I can remember, that East Topeka has been under-represented,” said Keith Warta, president of Bartlett & West and a tri-chair of Momentum 2022. “It certainly gets back to the whole concept that this is the entire community’s plan. We want to make sure that they were represented in a very public way in the plan.” Although the geographic emphasis is rare in community plans, Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka, agreed it was warranted because of the community concerns. “I think it’s addressing equity, economic equity, in just making sure that somebody in East Topeka has the same opportunities to succeed as anywhere else in the county,” he said. The East Topeka Learning Center is a project expected to bring the most change to the East Topeka area. It will provide post-high school courses, such as opportunities for
I think it’s an initiative that started a lot of years ago, and I’m hopeful that if we can make this happen we can show the citizenry of East Topeka that there is a concern in investment in their part of the city.” Alonzo Harrison
Owner of HDB Construction in Topeka and a GO Topeka executive board member.
GED testing and other certificate programs. Located at 2014 S.E. Washington St., the center is set for a soft opening in late 2018 and should be fully operational by the fall of 2019. Barbara Stapleton, vice president of Workforce and Education at GO Topeka, said when looking at what the Topeka community needed most, they noticed a lack of educational services in the East Topeka neighborhoods. “One of the things that we saw that really just jumped out is that — for lack of a better term — there is an education desert in East Topeka,” she said, adding the center will provide training opportunities to fill gaps in the workforce. This is also one of the reasons Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast said it is important to spend funds on such projects. “Part of it is developing a workforce for the jobs that are available,” he said, emphasizing that it’s not only about creating jobs but also about finding people who can fill existing positions. While Harrison is excited about the learning
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Mayor Larry Wolgast says the genuine desire from the residents of East Topeka convinced him that the area needed to be a focus of Momentum 2022 efforts. center, he says he is more eager to see if other projects follow. “I’m hopeful that other lateral activity will spring up,” he said, mentioning better lighting, sidewalks and streets. “Hopefully, if we grow that piece and other businesses come along to support it — whether that be eateries, laundromats, shoe repairs and hardware stores; all the little things that make a community go along — this will be an anchor to other opportunities.” Harrison said an important thing to remember is that there is often
a lot of negativity associated with East Topeka and that these types of programs are necessary to change that mindset. “I think if we have something this positive … (it) will enhance the quality of life,” he said. “I think it will be a substantial demonstration of commitment to enhance the eastern portion of the city.” Bitler said the task force has been formed to focus specifically on East Topeka in order to ensure that progress is being made in a productive way. “The goal of the East
Topeka Council is really that they will provide recommendations to other groups about how those objectives can be defined by groups in East Topeka,” she said. “(It is) really an advisory board to make sure the plan as a whole is implemented.” Wolgast said there can be arguments made for needing focus like this in each quadrant of the city, but that East Topeka seems to need it most. He said he had heard from people who know East Topeka well and that their “warm, emotional, heartfelt feel-
ings” are what convinced him these actions were necessary. “We’re aware the need is there but to have the people there express it, it tells us this is something that needs to be done,” he said. Working toward improving East Topeka will in turn help to improve the rest of the city, Stapleton said. “We’ve talked about that rising tide that raises all ships,” she said. “This is what we’re doing in terms of that tide. If you can elevate areas of the community, it brings everyone up to that level.”
14 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Challenges: Overall per capita income grew at faster rate than inflation Continued from 12
Topeka-Shawnee County has much work to do toward maintaining a stable and competitive workforce into the future,” the report said. Educational attainment rates for younger residents of Topeka-Shawnee County fall behind the equivalent rates for the state, nation and other competitive communities, the report added. It suggested “developing homegrown talent to ensure that the next generation of workers is prepared to contribute to and thrive in a vibrant community.” The report also recommended Topeka focus on becoming more appealing to talented people who are already part of its workforce, to keep them from moving to the Lawrence and Kansas City areas.
Quality of place
Topeka must improve its quality of life and quality of place to retain its best and brightest residents, the report added. It said businesses here routinely tell prospective employees to work in Topeka but live in Lawrence or the Kansasside suburbs of Kansas City to take advantage of their social offerings. The report cited research indicating three factors primarily cause people to feel attached to a community, with those being social offerings, aesthetics and openness, with the latter being described as “how welcoming a place is to different types of people.” Topeka lacks the type of gathering places and social opportunities other communities offer, while survey respondents showed a lack of excitement over the community’s aesthetic appearance and had mixed feelings about its openness, the report said.
and three of the four sectors have exhibited strong growth in Topeka-Shawnee County in the past 10 years,” the report said.
It indicated addressing concerns in those areas “is critically important to the community’s ability to retain and attract talent and, by extension, compete in the present and future economy.”
Topeka-Shawnee County needs to develop a strong local and regional “talent pipeline” by ensuring that education and training providers are well-aligned and have the resources they need to prepare younger residents for college and careers, the report said. It indicated that in terms of early childhood development, “more could, and should, be done to improve and expand the accessibility and availability of affordable, quality options for families across TopekaShawnee County.” The report recommended continuing efforts to boost achievement in Topeka public schools, resurrecting a manufacturing technology program formerly offered by the Washburn Institute of Technology and expanding computer and information technology programs. It added that “The community’s proximity to higher education institutions is a competitive advantage — and potentially a massive one.”
Using existing strengths
Though unemployment rates here are relatively low, Topeka-Shawnee County’s economic potential is inhibited by its having a small workforce at time when available talent is becoming the most important factor influencing a community’s competitiveness, the report said. It noted that 38.3 percent of the community’s jobs are in the business sectors of government and health
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Improvements in downtown Topeka have already had a measurable effect on internal perceptions in the community, according to findings of the Market Street report. care, at a time when those sectors account nationally for 20.1 percent of total employment. The report recommended Topeka-Shawnee County focus on strategic
investments targeted at adding jobs in four target areas that saw considerable growth between 2005 and 2015. Those are food manufacturing, advanced systems technology, pro-
fessional and financial services, and logistics and distribution. “The community’s existing workforce and placebased assets are highly supportive of these fields,
Though per capita income for Topeka-Shawnee County was lower than for all comparison geographies between 2004 and 2014, the report says overall per capita income here grew at a faster rate than inflation during that time period as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Midwest urban areas. Still, it said: “The community cannot offer the same value proposition as other Midwestern communities with higher wages and similar low costs of living. Poverty is down overall but a frustratingly high proportion of residents — including more than one in five children — live below the poverty line.” The report said the strategic implications it discussed could help address such concerns indirectly by creating better economic, training and educational opportunities for residents. “But given the depth of some of these issues, it will also be necessary to maintain support for initiatives that provide services directly to individuals living in poverty or those otherwise in need,” it said. Near its end, the report re-emphasized that Topeka-Shawnee County must not let low morale or negative attitudes stand in the way of progress. It said, “In Market Street’s experience even self-image problems that have been decades in the making can be turned around in a short amount of time with simple, meaningful demonstrations of progress.” Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 15
Selling others on Topeka, Shawnee County is her priority By Morgan Chilson
Molly Howey took her first position at the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce seven years ago unsure exactly what the term “economic development” encompassed. “I didn’t even know it was a career path,” she said. “When I started working here, it was advertised as a chamber position because back then everything was just chamber. The word economic development didn’t come into play in my interviews. Once I got here, they said you’re supporting GO Topeka and here’s what GO Topeka does.” GO Topeka is the chamber’s economic development arm, and Howey’s first job in 2011 as a research manager plunged her into the world of Requests for Proposals, or RFPs, that sell Topeka to businesses interested in locating or expanding here. The fast-paced economic development environment at the chamber inspired Howey, especially as the organization and GO Topeka redefined themselves over recent years. Now, as the newly appointed senior vice president of economic development, Howey is a leader in charging the capital city. She laughs over the fact that she’s had four or five different titles over the years and can’t even recall them all. But each position built her knowledge and education in economic development. “It was really interesting just seeing behind the scenes,” Howey said. “I just thought, ‘Oh, I’m sure people just kind of go out and look for a place or a building, and they look to see if they’ve got enough space and they just move there? I didn’t know I needed to know how many tornadoes had happened in the past 10 years, how granular it gets.” Howey began taking advantage of educational opportunities through the International Economic Development Council, taking a basic first course and then moving on to receive a difficult accreditation as a certified economic developer, a designation chamber and GO Topeka leader Matt Pivarnik said has a very low pass rate. “It’s very difficult to be a certified economic developer,” he said.
Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal
Molly Howey is one of the leaders of change in Topeka as the senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. When the current position leading GO Topeka’s economic development arm and overseeing business retention and workforce development efforts opened up, Pivarnik said most people expected him to recruit from outside the community. And while he did look at others, he was drawn back to Howey. “We grew our own talent,” he said, adding that Howey has been recruited by other economic development organizations and recently was asked to write a white paper for the IEDC about quality of life. Howey, 33, said the eco-devo industry typically involves moving to other organizations to move up the ladder. But she’s committed to Topeka because her family is here. “I’m happy that they thought outside the box and set a new trend,” Howey said. For Pivarnik, the choice was obvious. “She definitely has the can-do attitude. She never, ever says to me ‘We can’t do that because… ’ She’s always saying, ‘We can do that and here’s how we can do that.’” Seven years later, she still finds the job exciting. “I think it is just the continual learning, and the continual change, and the continual challenge,” Howey said. “Because we work with so many different industries, you have to be able to
speak their lingo, at least to some level, and know what their needs are and the criteria that they look for in their specific industry. And then we’re competing with every other community in the nation. So that competition challenge, I think, helps me personally because I’m someone that needs more all the time.” Asked to describe her personality, Howey was thoughtful. “I would say I’m cautiously confident. And to define that, I’m confident in areas when I know what I’m doing. If I’m in a new spot it takes me a little bit to warm up,” she said. “I think generally I’m a confident person. I’m honest. I don’t want to beat around the bush, I just want to be straightforward, and I expect that from others too. I think family is extremely important, so my family always comes first.” This job ticks a lot of boxes for Howey. Being on the road frequently working with site selectors and companies introduces her to numerous people, and that’s another favorite aspect. Like all positions, economic development is not without frustrations. It’s typically a slow field, with RFPs going out on proposals that may not be decided for months or years. The Topeka community may get down to the final three or five and then lose out on a new company at the last minute. It’s serious business that affects the overall health of To-
peka. “I think probably the first proposal I submitted, it finally hit me when I was getting ready to press the send button, there are a lot of people involved in this,” Howey said. “This is the whole community I’m submitting for, it’s not just me. I wouldn’t say it was intimidating. It was just probably the moment where I realized the seriousness of the position and how much it impacts so many things across the community. “Every time I get a phone call and they give me the basic criteria for what they need, I’m crossing my fingers. A lot of times they’ll call and need something we don’t have, and it’s a bummer,” she said. “Some of the things in the criteria we can change, and some of them we can’t, which is probably one of the most frustrating things for me about the position.” Like many communities nationwide, Topeka is struggling with a low unemployment rate, meaning there sometimes aren’t enough people to fill jobs. That’s one of the issues that sealed Howey’s involvement and commitment to Momentum 2022 and the changes that Topeka needs to make. “I think that’s one of the main reasons why we are switching gears at GO Topeka and the chamber to talk more about quality of life, because we need the people to fill the jobs,” she said. “I’m excited that we get to build on changing the thought behind what economic development is. I think this community has always looked at economic development as jobs and capital investment. There’s so much more to it that supports the growth of jobs and investment. “I think we have a great team in place that has that attitude with an open mind and flexibility and new, fresh ideas, and I think the community support is awesome right now, which was not the case when I started here at all,” Howey added. “That’s just such a positive to me, to be able to say that I work at GO Topeka proudly, instead of how it was in 2011 when I would say, I’m at GO Topeka and then watch someone’s facial expression to see if they grimace.” Along with the challenges, Topeka has many qualities that make it easy to sell, Howey said. The availability of shovel-ready
land, with utilities in place, and its location within the country and the transportation network are two. Even though workforce is a struggle, the community work ethic and quality of workers is generally better than on the coasts, she said. Momentum 2022 is important to the community’s future because it addresses quality of life so strongly, Howey said. “The companies that do choose to be here, sometimes they’re sending their execs and people they already have from another location, and they want to feel comfortable here and they want to know that they’ve got things to do and a good way of life,” she said. “And they want to know that they can attract more talent. You may have what they need to start out, but if they plan to grow, they want to know that they can attract more workers that fit their needs.” Changing Topeka and Shawnee County’s quality of life is important to Howey professionally, but it also makes a difference for her personally. She grew up in Overbrook, and her family is still in the surrounding areas. Currently, she lives with her husband, John, and three children in Silver Lake. Her sister, who is is her best friend, lives in Silver Lake, too, and it’s clear Howey is a committed lover of small communities that build connections. When she’s not out selling Topeka, she’s probably on a sports field somewhere, or outdoors with a family that enjoys camping and fishing. Pivarnik pushes work-life harmony at the chamber, and Howey appreciates spending time at home, even as she struggles to leave the laptop and cell phone in a demanding field she enjoys. “I think there’s a lot of room for growth when you’re at any level in economic development, so I think I’ll always be growing,” she said. “Industries are always changing, so you’ve always got to change with them. I don’t ever want to get in that rut where I’m that executive whose been here for 15 years and this is just the way we’ve always done it and the way we’re always going to do it. I always want to keep growing. I think that sums it up.”
16 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 17
There’s no place like home Young professionals
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Kahle Loveless discovered himself while moving from city to city in his 20s. He’s now an engineer at Westar Energy in Topeka, near where he grew up in Lyndon.
come full circle
Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal
Cassandra Taylor, senior project manager for Architect One, worked in Orlando, Fla., and Juneau, Alaska, before returning home to Topeka. She said she and her husband, Jerad Head, moved back to Topeka with their two children in 2014, and she works as an account manager in the creative department at Advisors Excel. She said she wished they had moved back when their daughter was born in 2010.
By Allison Kite
When Jake Deister was considering a job that would bring him back to his hometown, Topeka, he visited the area with his seven children and his wife, Brooke, who was so blown away by a restaurant server’s kindness that she suspected that the meal was orchestrated by Deister’s employer-tobe. “My wife thought that every restaurant and every place we had gone to all week had been orchestrated by Stormont Vail to make it look like everybody was friendly,” he said. “That’s how friendly people were.” Deister, 40, is now an orthopedic surgeon at Stormont Vail. His family, he said, was overwhelmed by the kindness they were shown on that visit. Before he came back, though, that he lived and studied in Russia, England and Ohio and had never planned to move back home to Topeka. He said his childhood in Topeka was full of good memories, but his family moved to Ohio when he was about 20 years old, and he didn’t miss Topeka too much. When he was finishing his residency, a recruiter asked him if he would consider practicing in Topeka. He said the recruiter pronounced it “Toepeka.” “That was the first time that it ever crossed my mind,” he said. He said he started evaluating different types and sizes of cities and realized Topeka would be a fit. Deister is a young professional who left Topeka
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Jake Deister lived in Russia, England and Ohio before moving back to his hometown of Topeka with his wife, Brooke, and their seven children. Deister is an orthopedic surgeon at Stormont Vail. or surrounding county only to move back years later. He said Topeka was the best option for his career and fit what he wanted out of a city. For others who have lived from Alaska to Florida and Texas to Nevada, the call of home and the opportunities in Topeka eventually prevailed.
Cassandra Taylor, 40, grew up in Topeka and Hoyt before leaving home to pursue her career in architecture. She moved back in 2007 and is now
an associate principal and senior project manager at Architect One. She said she always heard she had to leave to be successful. She took a job with Disney in Orlando, Fla., and worked there before moving to Juneau, Alaska, back to Orlando and then home to Kansas. The drive from Orlando to Juneau, she said, took four days in the car and a day on a ferry. When she wanted to visit home from Alaska, it took at least eight hours of travel. CJ Head, 34, said she thought she needed to
leave for a while after she graduated Kansas State University to pursue her career in fashion marketing, but she soon found the entry-level fashion jobs in Los Angeles didn’t pay enough for the high cost of living. She instead got an administrative job and worked for a wedding planner before moving to Orlando, Fla., to be closer to her brother. “I wouldn’t take back those experiences for anything,” she said. “As much as I was homesick in Los Angeles – having my brother in Orlando, I wasn’t too homesick.”
Taylor said she missed seeing her younger sister grow up while she was gone. She said being away meant she didn’t get to come home for the “little things,” like birthdays and dance recitals. “You would be lucky to get home once or twice a year,” Taylor said. For Kahle Loveless, 29, an engineer at Westar Energy, moving away allowed him to get to know himself better. Having to start over and explore a new city several times meant he could learn his own priorities without being influenced by his friends. He said he would encourage other people to get out of their hometown for a time because of the personal growth opportunity it creates. “If you don’t leave, then you have no idea what you’re missing out on,” Loveless said. Loveless said, though, that when he moved away, he often worked, slept and then repeated. He said he worked an average of 60 hours a week at Garney Construction. The company is headquartered in Kansas City, but Loveless lived in Oklahoma City; San Antonio; Dallas and Arlington, Texas. Being home, he said, means he gets to see his friends and family and develop hobbies. Loveless said he grew up in Lyndon, and his parents still live there. Being away from home was a cultural difference for Trey George, 39, who lived in Las Vegas for nine years before making his way back to Topeka to work for the Topeka Housing Authority Inc. in 2011. He’s the executive director. “What I found when I was out in Las Vegas – if you’re walking into a gas station and somebody’s walking right in front of you, they’re not going to hold the door for you. They’re just going to let it close,” George said.
Emily DeShazer/The Capital-Journal
CJ Head, an account manager in the creative department at Advisors Excel, moved back to Topeka with her husband and two children in 2014.
Deister said that when he was evaluating cities, he wanted somewhere small enough that he could have an affect and be part of a community instead of getting lost in the crowd, but big enough to support a surgeon’s career. With a wife and seven kids, he said he couldn’t make that decision lightly or because of nostalgia. “I can’t do it because I want to relive my child-
hood,” Deister said. “I’ve got to do it because this is a good place for everything together.” Head said she and her husband decided to come home to be near family and have a support structure because Jerad Head works for the Washington Nationals baseball team and is gone for about half of the year. She said they had considered moving back and finally decided it was time. “We made that call in October of 2014, and we had moved back in two months,” she said. George said his wife, Alicia, who is from Oregon, first mentioned the idea of moving to Topeka while the two were living in Las Vegas. “I kind of looked at her odd because I never thought that she would really want to do that,” George said. He said he transferred to a Kansas City branch to get closer to Topeka before finding his job at THA. He said he got a lot of industry knowledge by being in a big city but loved being home in Topeka.
Life in Topeka
Taylor said she drove over to her mom’s house on the first Christmas that she was back instead of waking up in a hotel or on the air mattress at her mom’s house. “There was no, ‘Oh my gosh – I have to leave tomorrow.’ There was no pressure like that,” she said. Taylor said she misses being near the beach, but because the cost of living in Topeka is lower, she gets to take better vacations. Loveless said he sees his parents every weekend, plays in rec leagues, hangs out with friends he didn’t get to see much while he was gone and goes to Royals games in Kansas City. Topeka has changed a lot since George left. He said the NOTO Arts District and downtown work impressed him when he moved back. “There’s enough people there that can allow you to fulfill your goals,” Deister said, “but there’s not going to be a hundred other people in town that have your same widget that you’re selling.” Now that CJ and Jerad Head are back in the area, CJ Head said their kids have a much closer relationship with their grandparents instead of seeing them for a few days at a time. Now, she said, the kids have slumber parties with their grandparents, and CJ’s dad coaches her daughter in sports. “He wouldn’t give that up for the world,” Head said. “You don’t realize how important family is until – I think – you have kids and you realize the support system you have.”
18 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
$6.3 million campaign to support Momentum 2022 By Morgan Chilson
Momentum 2022 lays out a complex, ambitious plan to address issues that affect quality of life and the Topeka’s ability to thrive. Underpinning the plan will require financial commitment, and leaders said more public-private partnerships like the one that created the downtown street revitalization will be necessary. “We’re in the early stages of talking about how to pay the bills,” said Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka. “We’ve had very good private-sector support for economic development to really augment the public support we have through JEDO (Joint Economic Development Organization).” In the next months, a campaign to raise $6.3 million will be launched, he said, tied to supporting the five pillars identified in Momentum 2022 as the starting place for making direct impact in the community. The breakdown for dollars on each pillars is as follows: ■■Develop homegrown talent initiative, $1,031,900. ■■Create vibrant and attractive places, $1,099,400. ■■Grow a diverse economy, $2,076,900. ■■Promote a positive image, $912,400. ■■Collaborate for a strong community, $1,179,400. “It’s fairly evenly distributed between the five,” Pivarnik said. “The ‘grow a diverse economy’ is probably a little heavy, that’s your economic development incentives, that’s your marketing to location consultants, that’s our staff making sure we’re on the road as much as possible marketing Topeka.” Public dollars were committed to the plan when JEDO contracted with GO Topeka to do its economic development for 2018 through 2020. “I can tell you, there’s not a chance that we can raise private dollars if we didn’t have those public dollars,” he said. “The
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka, said public dollars and private investment will be needed to address Topeka’s quality of life and economic needs. Kayla Bitler recently was hired as strategic coordinator for the plan. private sector really augments the public investment in economic development.” The most recent campaign raised $4.1 million in private dollars for downtown, and this next campaign will be more holistic, with goals that affect the entire community, Pivarnik said. Issues addressed in Momen-
tum 2022 are important to businesses, said Keith Warta, president of Bartlett & West and a tri-chair for the economic development strategy. “If we have a community that attracts talent, what’s that worth to businesses?” he said. “That’s part of your return on investment. I think the envi-
ronment we have within our community right now is just so healthy when it comes to the private businesses getting involved in things.” Pivarnik said GO Topeka is working on the economic impact of the Momentum 2022 plan, but it’s a difficult job. “It’s easy to say if we create
X number of jobs and we create this much capital investment it creates this economic impact,” he said. “But you go through this and you think about some of these things and what they’ll do for the community long-term — this is economic impact of billions of dollars if we execute this plan. Not millions.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 19
20 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Community assessment: Collaborate for a strong community
Phil Anderson/The Capital-Journal
Don Perkins keeps a close eye on Topeka’s Central Park, serving as president of that area’s Neighborhood Improvement Association. Despite being concerned about crime in Topeka, Perkins said he sees “a lot of positives, especially in the downtown area and the central part of the city.”
Residents see city moving in positive direction Neighborhood improvement associations playing key roles across community
Potential actions to collaborate for a strong community
n Establish an annual diversity summit. n Create a community-wide program to connect new and existing employee resource groups that promote diversity and inclusion. n Help those ERGs share best practices. n Create a community volunteer initiative focused on neighborhood improvements and bridging geographic and cultural gaps. n Support startups small businesses that serve the community. n Work to increase economic prosperity and opportunities in low-income neighborhoods through a community wealth building initiative. n Determine a collaborative approach to public safety, which could include identifying needs and potential funding sources for options such as enhancing lighting and surveillance in crime hotspots.
By Phil Anderson
Don Perkins has credentials few can match when it comes to understanding Topeka. “I’ve lived here all my life,” he said. “Seventyseven years.” Most of those years have been in the Central Park neighborhood, about a mile southwest of downtown Topeka. Perkins has seen ups and downs in Topeka during his time here. Without sugar-coating problems and challenges faced by the city, he says he likes what he sees at this time. “I see some positive things, like NOTO, and I see the city taking more responsibility and working on the infrastructure, trying to make the city a better place to live,” he said. “At the same time, I’m concerned about crime in the city. But I see a lot of positives, especially in the downtown area and the central part of the city.” In recent years, Perkins has served as president of the Central Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, working with city leaders and local law enforcement agencies to keep the area vibrant and strong. Like many Topekans, Perkins is keeping an eye on the amount of energy, effort and dollars being poured into downtown. Proponents of downtown revitalization say the ripple effect will be felt in neighborhoods surrounding the city’s core — areas too often characterized by abandoned homes, frequent crime and poverty. Perkins cautions downtown improvements shouldn’t be done at the expense of other pressing needs in the city. Momentum 2022 is economic development for all of Shawnee County, and it’s critical that all parts of the city are involved and affected by the initia-
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Keith Warta, chief executive officer of Bartlett & West Inc., points to the energy generated by the young professionals involved in Forge, which is sponsored by the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. tive, said Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. Members of the Central Park NIA would concur. “We just did a survey,” Perkins said, “and most of the people are concerned about crime in the neighborhood. That’s the main thing right now. We don’t have a lot of homeowners who live here. There’s a lot of people who are in and out — that’s our biggest problem.” The Market Street study found that about 40 percent of people surveyed felt the city’s sense of personal and property safety was “very poor” or “below average.” Other community issues highlighted were poor health, concern about mental health issues and
homelessness, and a need to encourage citizens to be involved and engaged. In addition, the survey found many thought East and south Topeka had seen little investment in recent years and that should be addressed. Pivarnik said he and economic development staff will begin attending NIA meetings to make sure they’re learning about issues in different parts of town and also reaching out to residents to become involved with helping the community change. Diversity and inclusion are important topics for young people, and attracting and retaining young people surfaces in numerous places in the 63-page Market Street strategy.
From workforce to quality of life to promoting a positive image, young people are key to the capital city’s future. “Young talent, they demand a diverse and inclusive community,” Pivarnik said. “That’s where they want to live, and that’s what they’re looking for in their quality of life. That’s important for our ability to be able to attract a future workforce.” Already, with the implementation stage more than four months away, efforts are being made to diversify community boards. Market Street recommended a diversity board in its strategy, and Pivarnik said they were “a little blown away” that Included launched in the preimplementation stage.
Many younger Topekans are sitting up and taking notice of what’s been happening. Maybe, just maybe, the promise of a better quality of life for themselves and their children will be enough to keep them here, and entice other young professionals to move here. “I’m seeing a lot of positive momentum,” said Keith Warta, chief executive officer of Bartlett & West Inc., a Topeka-based engineering firm. “The improvements on Kansas Avenue are the highlight, but many other things are happening.” Warta, who also serves as one of the tri-chairs for Momentum 2022, said perhaps most exciting is the energy being generated by hundreds of people involved in Forge, a young professionals group sponsored by the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “Our community is also developing a new holistic economic development strategy in which community advocates are mapping out the opportunities for improvement – real change for the better,” Warta said. “NOTO and the buzz that First Fridays is creating are getting us noticed, and it builds pride. “Beyond these things, we have the anticipation of new public-private partnerships, Kansas River
amenities, infrastructure improvement, new businesses and many other neat things to be excited about. “A key to maintaining momentum will be the implementation of the holistic economic development strategy,” he said. “The plan will have metrics, dates and champions for steps that our community must take to continue improving our workforce, quality of place, entrepreneurial ecosystem, and overall collaboration.” Those involved in making changes in Topeka say they are in it for the long haul. This commitment helps them weather comments from those who still say Topeka will never change. Such negativity may have derailed entire projects in the past. Now, they are largely ignored. Brittany Stiffler Crabtree, a senior strategist at the Jones Huyett Partners marketing and advertising agency, said, “Instead of having that negative commentary, we’ve now flipped it.” The talk is now about what Topeka can do, rather than about what it hasn’t done. “When I moved to To-
Instead of having that negative commentary, we’ve now flipped it.” Brittany Stiffler Crabtree,
senior strategist at the Jones Huyett Partners
peka 10 years ago from Wichita, some people would say negative things about Topeka,” Crabtree said. “But every year that I’ve been here, I’ve gotten more and more proud of who we’re becoming.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 21
Seven work groups support initiatives By Morgan Chilson
Months of work on Momentum 2022 birthed five overarching goals that lend a starting place to make positive change in Topeka. The five initiatives that lend a strategic framework to the initiative are as follows: ■■Develop homegrown talent. ■■Create vibrant and attractive places. ■■Grow a diverse economy. ■■Promote a positive image. ■■Collaborate for a strong community. Those initiatives were identified by the 43-member steering committee as being critical to Topeka’s success, said Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka. The committee now has identified seven work groups to fall under those five pillars, but Pivarnik said the Momentum 2022 implementation committee may choose to add work groups. The seven work groups and potential actions for those groups are as follows: Talent development: Create a cradleto-career collective impact partnership, which would focus on raising talent levels; prepare students for college and careers; focus on kindergarten readiness. Quality of place: Explore options for dealing with blighted properties; incentivize rehab of properties; create a restaurant development program. Downtown and NOTO: Continue for-
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
A 43-member steering committee spent months developing five overarching goals through a Momentum 2022 initiative. Seven work groups will fall under those five pillars. ward momentum in these districts to develop a dynamic regional core; consider opportunities for public-private partnerships; incentivize development of new housing and supportive retail; advance the NOTO Arts District Master Plan. Entrepreneurship: Enhance the activities that support entrepreneurial development;
work to expand 712 Innovations to meet needs, including a restaurant incubator; develop a preseed microloan program. Economic development: Continue business retention and expansion activities; establish business councils to support the area’s target business sectors; consider broadening the ways economic development incentives are
used, with the potential to affect community aesthetics and social offerings. Marketing: Align marketing messages throughout Topeka and Shawnee County’s various entities; develop a multi-platform approach to communicate positive news. Community engagement, pride and service: Develop an
outreach campaign to contact key influencers who interact with prospective residents, such as Realtors and human resources professionals; launch a boomerang talent marketing program that reaches out to people who have local roots about opportunities in the Topeka area; foster and promote a diverse and inclusive community.
Large group powered initiative
A steering committee of 43 community members met for a number of months to set goals for Momentum 2022. They are as follows: Commissioner Shelly Buhler (tri-chair) Shawnee County Keith Warta (tri-chair) Bartlett & West Mayor Larry Wolgast (tri-chair) City of Topeka Zach Ahrens The Topeka Capital Journal Dr. Tiffany Anderson Topeka Public Schools, USD 501 Brent Boles Schendel Lawn & Landscape Michelle De La Isla City of Topeka/ Westar Energy Tara Dimick TK Business Magazine Pat Doran FHL Bank Topeka Dr. Jerry Farley Washburn University Neil Fisher KBS Constructors Sarah Fizell ArtsConnect Abel Frederic St Francis Health Foundation Lindsay Freeman Advisors Excel Sean Frost Washburn University Foundation Vince Frye Downtown Topeka Inc. Scott Gales Architect One Trey George Topeka Housing Authority Doug Gerbe City of Topeka Scott Griffith INTRUST Bank Alonzo Harrison HDB Construction Frank Henderson Topeka Rescue Mission T.D. Hicks Antioch Missionary Baptist Church Brett Klausman Midwest Health Miriam Krehbiel Kurt Kuta CoreFirst Bank & Trust Joe Ledbetter Ledbetter Law Gina Millsap Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Allen Moore Frito Lay Lalo Munoz El Centro of Topeka Brett Oetting Visit Topeka Jim Parrish Parrish Hotels Marsha Pope Topeka Community Foundation Eric Rease 2 Mark Ruelle Westar Energy Greg Schwerdt Schwerdt Design Group Bret Spangler Mars Chocolate Janet Stanek Stormont Vail Health Michelle Stubblefield jones huyett Partners Allan Towle Fidelity State Bank & Trust Wendy Wells US Bank Lonnie Williams L&J Building Maintenance Doug Wolff Security Benefit Life
22 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Community assessment: Create vibrant and attractive places
Vibrant, attractive places linked to community success By Katie Moore
Place is embodied by the structures and environment around us. But it’s created by people. In areas where revitalization efforts are getting off the ground, it’s important for lots of voices to be part of the vision and for people to feel involved, said Kristen O’Shea, executive director of Heartland Visioning. One of the five pillars of change proposed as part of the Momentum 2022 initiative is “create vibrant and attractive places.” Quality of place is affected by multiple factors, the Market Street report said, and that means targeting the issue from a variety of directions. Suggestions include creating programs to address social needs such as more restaurants and retail offerings or working with neighborhood improvement associations to revitalize blighted areas throughout the city. In Topeka, most beautification efforts in recent years centered on the city’s “dynamic core,” which includes the NOTO Arts District, Oregon Trail riverfront and downtown Topeka. Each are in different stages of development. “NOTO has such authenticity,” O’Shea said. “Each person’s personality shines through their business there. There’s a unique sense to that place.” A vibrant downtown isn’t just businesses, but it’s also residences, said Andrea Engstrom, who leads the newly formed Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association. The purpose of the group is for people to get to know each other, participate in events such as National Night Out, provide resources to residents and promote living downtown, she said. “It’s not build it and they will come. It’s provide programming and they will come,” Engstrom said. One way to create that con-
Katie Moore/The Capital-Journal
Andrea Engstrom, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, talks about the group’s goals during its first official meeting in early February. sistency is in making the proposed Downtown Plaza become a reality, she said. The attraction is targeted at becoming the hub of activities in the downtown areas, and would feature a stage, a plaza/park, areas for outdoor eating and a splash pad that could be used as an ice rink in the winter. Jeff Stava, with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, has worked on civic engagement and placemaking initiatives in Tulsa. Collaborations between community partners and the city government has propelled projects, a point made repeatedly in the Market Street report. Downtown Tulsa was revi-
talized by small businesses such as pubs and restaurants coming in. It happened or g a n ic a l ly, Stava said. When those Haehn saw success, other businesses such as breakfast places, chain restaurants and even loft projects were attracted to the area. Tulsa now boasts an entrepreneurship incubator, housing for Teach for America volunteers, an arts fellowship and geothermal systems in many of
its buildings. Neighborhood meetings were an important component. It keeps development authentic, Stava said. Local stakeholders had a big part in the vision and retaining uniqueness, a process that also built consensus. “That’s really important so you can keep momentum going,” Stava said. Neighborhood improvement associations have been an effective way to develop a collective voice, O’Shea said. There are 20 active NIAs in Topeka, said Sasha Haehn, director of neighborhood relations for the city of Topeka. PLACES continues on 23
Potential actions to create vibrant, attractive places
n Educate the community about importance of public investment in quality of place. n Create a restaurant development program to expand social offerings. n Create a restaurant incubator at 712 Innovations. n Assess the city’s retail climate; take action to draw needed retailers. n Expand and pursue options to address blighted properties and ensure reponsible ownership. n Create a community-wide loan program to incentivize new and existing homeowners to upgrade and renovate their houses.
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 23
Places: Focus on quality means gathering input, initiating changes Continued from 22
To form an NIA, at least 51 percent of residents have to be in the low- to moderate-income bracket. For one person, that’s a maximum income of $35,100; $40,100 for two people; $45,100 for three people and $50,100 for four, based on Housing and Urban Development figures for 2017. NIAs can apply for two major grants. The empowerment grant is designed to improve things like sidewalks or undertake beautification projects. The Ward Meade NIA started a pilot project for solar lights, Haehn said. Every other year, two neighborhoods are selected for the Stages of Resource Targeting grant, which enhances public spaces and can assist property owners. In January, Quinton Heights-Steele and Tennessee Town were selected as SORT neighborhoods. Michael Bell, president of the Tennessee Town NIA, said colleagues are planning on using SORT funds for housing rehabilitation and infrastructure. A house at S.W. 12th and Lane donated to the NIA is going to be demolished so the Lane Garden can be expanded, he said. Another significant change to the central Topeka neighborhood is the planned GraceMed Health Clinic at the former Dillons store. Bell said he sees the site becoming a “health care destination.” He has been a volunteer with NIAs in Topeka for about 20 years. “I can say without hesitation that I love NIAs and the people in NIAs. They are the backbone of this city,” Bell said. Haehn agreed. “I think (NIAs) are vitally important, especially when you’re trying to revitalize a neighborhood,” she said. The goal is for NIAs is to eventually become neighborhood associations that don’t have those income requirements, Haehn said. Rounding out the dynamic core is the Riverfront Park. Movement was catalyzed last summer when the National Park Service held “design cha-
Katie Moore/The Capital-Journal
Michael Bell, president of the Tennessee Town NIA, has volunteered with community neighborhood improvement associations for more than 20 years, calling them the backbone of Topeka. rettes” to develop plans for the Oregon Trail park. At least 42 people completed pre-charette feedback forms, and nearly 100 reservations were made to take part in the design workshop. Kristen Van Fleet, a landscape architect for the Park Service’s National Trails Intermountain Region, said Topeka participation eclipsed anything she has seen in the region, which usually receives no more than a couple of feedback forms and has seen no more than 20 to 30 participants at its all-day workshops. “People want to share their input and voice,” O’Shea said. Focus on quality of place means gathering that input and then putting mechanisms
in place to make changes. For instance, the Market Street report suggests using a land bank that would allow the city of Topeka to acquire, improve and divest properties that are blighted or abandoned. Failing to deal well with such properties was a “consistent theme” in the public input process. O’Shea recognized that such growth and changes won’t occur quickly. “Big change takes time, and it’s complex,” she said. Hazel Borys, managing principal with PlaceMakers LLC, said change requires patience. For more than a decade, ideas presented in the Topeka Bikeways Master Plan have been unrolled. The plan lays out a network of interconnected in-
frastructures that connect the city and Sh aw nee County, said Andy Fry, of the Topeka Com mun ity Cycle Project. Fry Cycling provides riders with physical wellness, as well as flexibility in transportation and therefore opportunities, he said. It also facilitates an enhanced sense of place. “The perspective you have sitting upright as you ride through less-congested side streets and residential neighborhoods puts you back on plane with your neighbors in a
way that you see a lot more of what’s happening in our community,” Fry said. Fry said he’d like to see continued development of mixed mode transportation options. There’s a trend to exchange a few square feet to have vibrant pedestrian realms, Borys said, noting the difference between large parking lots, which hinder walkability, and street and parallel parking, which encourage walking. Topeka has a walk score of 34, Borys said. According to walkscore.com, that translates into car dependency. In order to improve elements of the city such as transportation, Borys said it takes locals who are willing to “roll up their sleeves.”
24 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Community assessment: Grow a diverse economy
Grow a diverse economy: Tracking metrics will help leaders determine the right path By Morgan Chilson
Strategic work on economic development in Shawnee County pinpointed multiple issues, from a decreasing population to needed improvements in the community’s workforce, or “talent pipeline.” City and county leaders track those and other factors as they set policies and goals for the community, said Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka. Officials use more than 45 metrics to take Topeka’s pulse in wide-ranging arenas, from workforce to job creation to items that focus on quality of life. “I actually think metrics are the key to success,” he said. “Anybody can use activity to make it look like they’re busy or that they’re successful. I think metrics are something to aspire to. They will also be benchmarked against other communities and benchmarked against the economy.” The City of Topeka is working to create appropriate benchmarks for many of the numbers it tracks to keep an eye on how the city is faring, said Nickie Lee, Topeka’s director of finance and administrative services. “We don’t have a formal benchmarking program right now,” she said. “I’ve got a network of finance directors that around budget time, we’ll say: ‘Hey, we’re forecasting a growth of 2 percent. Where are you guys at?’” Creating change through focusing on economic factors such as population growth can be a tough goal. Even in the Market Street report, the writers said population change is not a “reliable indicator of a community’s success or future prospects.” But fitting into the population
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Topeka leaders are working together to develop appropriate economic benchmarks to track the city’s progress. They say they need more formal guidelines than currently exist.
Submitted by Market Street Services
This graphic from the Market Street Services reports compares Shawnee County’s population growth to that of communities the consultant chose that have similar profiles to Topeka. growth category are like migration patterns, age dynamics and
educational attainment. Each of those can be tracked and tar-
geted with specific programs to effect change, Pivarnik said. Under each pillar highlighted in the Market Street report are multiple metrics that “move the needle” on issues, he said, and it’s often those metrics that officials target as a way to make change. No matter what, they’re a way of taking responsibility and assessing progress. “We’re looking to apply smart, specific, measurable, agreedupon, realistic and timebound metrics, and I think it gives you as a reporter, our elected leaders, even our citizens, it gives them the ability to hold us and the community accountable for the plans that we’re implementing,” he said. Topeka interim City Manager ECONOMY continues on 25
Potential actions to grow a diverse economy
n Boost the entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports small businesses and startups. n Support a new physical space for 712 Innovations to establish a hub of entrepreneurship, innovation and networking in Downtown Topeka. n Develop a pre-seed microloan program to open entrepreneurship to individuals who lack access to traditional capital. n Explore options to expand angel capital in the area. n Focus on business retention and business recruitment, getting to know your local businesses and identify their needs. n Establish business councils to support target sectors, such as technology, food manufacturing and tapping into the Kansas City Animal Science Corridor. Source: Market Street
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 25
Economy: Property tax can be impacted by land use plan Continued from 24
Doug Gerber said metrics the city uses and tracks tie in to Momentum 2022. “I think you have to be intentional about everything you do,” he said. “Yes, you’re intentional about attracting people, but you do that through other measures. There’s a big focus right now on quality of life, and what does that even mean. We can do things that impact quality of life, and that’s one intentional way we can get toward population growth.” Metrics are tools that provide measures, goals and accountability; they have to be used as such, Pivarnik said. “Let’s say we set a metric to create X number of jobs paying X dollars a year or higher. And then in 2019, we go into some deep, deep recession,” Pivarnik said. “It’ll be important to look at that recession and look at that metric, and say: ‘This was set in 2017 when we didn’t anticipate a recession in 2019. So obviously, we need to do a midcourse correction and look at that.’ It gives you something to shoot for.” Quality of life and quality of place are consistent terms in Momentum conversations. Many of the economic measures and issues highlighted in the Market Street report can affect those elements, Pivarnik said. Approaching concepts such as quality of life through the economic metrics that are part of city strategies, though, creates an interesting debate. “From a resource allocation standpoint, I think that is still a huge debate about how to put that concept into money,” Lee said. “Generally, it’s easy to say quality of place is great, we need to improve it. But when it comes down to it, are we as a city willing to spend more money on what you call ‘quality of life’ issues than public safety, streets, kind of the basics of what cities have always provided? I think cities everywhere are having that philosophical debate — is quality of life a basic city service?” The city of Topeka did add
Jackie Steele Carlson
quality of life to the list of budget priorities, she said. “They’ve made that first step to say when we talk about what the city wants to do, we’re going to include it on the list, which goes a long way,” Lee said. “But have you put that to dollars?” “The challenge is translating what (the numbers) show us and what the gap is into some sort of concrete action,” said Gerber, adding that city staff are “very in tune” with numbers they track. “We’ve been having a lot of conversations about our streets,” he said. “That’s one major way we can impact quality of life. There’s a lot of things from the city perspective that we can do to make sure that our buildings are safe, we have good public safety services, other code enforcement efforts are up to date. From a city perspective, it’s a really holistic approach as well.” Below are a few of the metrics area leaders use to effect change in the capital city: Revenue indicators: Property tax, sales tax, franchise fees, water fees and waste water fees are all categories of revenue that Lee follows closely. While it’s important to make sure they all stay with positive growth, it can be challenging to actually change them. Take, for instance, the franchise fee, which Lee said hasn’t been growing at the rate pro-
jected, even though the category is up 1.98 percent as of the city’s May 2017 report. The franchise fee is essentially a pass-through tax — meaning it’s a tax collected by one entity and passed directly to another — collected by utilities at the rate of either 5 or 6 percent, Lee said. It’s volatile based on weather and utility rates. But policies can effect revenue. The property tax can be affected by things like the Land Use Growth Management Plan, the city’s plan for growth, Gerber said. “That’s an intentional strategy that was adopted at a policy level by the governing body that says this is how we want to grow,” he said. “You can really stretch that and say it ties into being good stewards of what we already have rather than extending services to places they don’t necessarily need to be — the ultimate environmental policy.” Building permits: Lee said the city tracks building permits and other licensing, and they can have an impact on several categories. “We can have a good process,” she said. “We can help that business get up and going so they can generate sales tax.” Business visits: Jackie Steele Carlson, vice president of business retention and expansion at GO Topeka, said she tracks and sets goals for how many businesses her depart-
ment visits. Those aren’t just businesses she’s trying to draw to the area, but those already in existence. The visits help her gather insights into what companies need, and she’s able to bring that information and data back to elected officials and other leaders. “We look at what capital investments that the businesses are making, how many jobs are we creating, what’s the average wage of that job,” she said. “The part that’s probably hard to control is the target. We would like to have three expansion projects this year, which is kind of an unknown we can’t really control.” Pivarnik said capital investment is an important number to know. “When you find a company that is making capital investments, it is actually probably the strongest indication of their commitment to a community,” he said, adding that onsite company visits are critical to communication and helping companies work on potential issues they might have with expansions. Average wages: Molly Howey, vice president of business development and attraction at GO Topeka, said she’d like to “move the needle” on the county’s average wage. “As we work with prospects and talk with them about their incentives, we do encourage them to pay competitive rates,”
she said. “They have the data that shows what the averages are for their industries.” Steele Carlson said Kansas state government can play a key role in incentivizing people to increase their wages because their incentives are largely tied to income taxes. “The company can get a bigger incentive because they’re paying better,” Steele Carlson said. Education and workforce: The development of a top workforce to address business needs is critical, said Barbara Stapleton, vice president of workforce and education at GO Topeka. Although she tracks employment figures and unemployment, most of the focus is on education. “We’re looking to train lifelong learners,” she said, adding that her focus is “cradle to career,” from kindergarten to technical education to college. Such an extensive focus means everything from reaching out to high school students to introduce them to job opportunities to working with employers on workforce needs. Forge, a new young professionals organization, is a workforce initiative, as is Included, a new diversity and inclusion initiative, said Pivarnik. Workforce is impacted by the same quality of life issues discussed previously. “We’re trying to move a metric, and grow a population and grow our available workforce,” he said.
26 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Community assessment: Promote a positive image
Shawnee County turns around: A new outlook emerges By Phil Anderson and Morgan Chilson
A well-documented poor selfimage has plagued Topeka for years. Whether linked to high crime, a crumbling downtown, disappearing jobs or deteriorating streets, Topekans found plenty not to like about their hometown. An in-depth exploration of challenges facing the capital city, prepared by Market Street Strategies, highlighted the need to promote a positive image. Of those polled in the research, 56.1 percent said it was “not likely” their children would remain in Topeka, while just 10.4 percent said it was “very likely.” “The biggest challenge facing Topeka-Shawnee County is the negativity and stigma attached to Topeka by the people who live here,” one person told researchers. “All people do here is talk about how everything in this town is terrible. We have an attitude problem, and I think it keeps people from wanting to be a part of our community.” The report, the basis for the Momentum 2022 initiative, called for “more deliberate work” to improve internal and external perceptions of the community. Yet in 2017, self-loathing may be on the decline. A new energy is in the air, a positivity that longtime Topeka residents say they haven’t seen in years … maybe ever. In spite of lingering challenges, a new wave of leaders — many in their 20s and 30s — has flowed to the forefront, showing a commitment to put down roots and make long-overdue changes in Topeka. Sometimes, it is easier for people who didn’t grow up here to see the pluses offered by Topeka. Count Kristen O’Shea among that group. O’Shea, executive director of Heartland Visioning, is working to help people recognize the positives about Topeka, then shout them from the rooftop, largely by using social media. She gets excited when she talks
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Construction of the Cyrus Hotel in the 900 block of S. Kansas Avenue is among the contributing factors to Topekans having a more positive image of the community, many say. about the new direction that has taken hold in Topeka over the past few years. In many ways, she is saying what many people are seeing — even if they aren’t quite believing yet. She points to developments in the past five years, such as the
rise of the North Topeka Arts District and redevelopment of the downtown business district, complete with pocket parks, statues of local historical luminaries and the Cyrus Hotel under construction at 10th and S. Kansas Avenue.
Much of the positive energy can be attributed to new business and civic leadership that has bubbled up in recent years, she said, as the city moves beyond the planning stage to the doing stage. “I think there’s a lot of momen-
tum,” she said, “and I think that’s how the general public feels.” Change takes time, and the challenge to lift an entire city’s beleaguered psyche is a yearslong process. IMAGE continues on 27
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 27
Image: Social ambassadors spreading goodwill across Internet Continued from 26
Work has been taking place in this arena, particularly among organizations charged with putting Topeka’s best foot forward. More goals will be set as Momentum 2022 work groups move from the pre-implementation stage to the implementation stage beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Already, initiatives are taking place to address Topeka’s image problem. “We’re working in a more more collaborative way,” O’Shea said, “so when Visit Topeka is marketing Topeka and Heartland Vision is marketing future changes, we’re leveraging the message to become more of a unified voice.” O’Shea is helping to spearhead a new project called “social ambassadors,” in which everyday citizens who want to see Topeka succeed are committed to promoting the capital city via such social media outlets as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. When something positive occurs in the city, the social ambassadors get busy and announce it, then repeat it, on the various social media platforms. Not only does it reinforce a positive picture of Topeka, but it also is a way for people to pat themselves on the back and celebrate what’s going on in the capital city — a new experience for many. In the Momentum 2022 plan, one of the objectives under image is to “project a positive image to residents and outside talent.” Potential actions in that category include programs like social ambassadors that develop outreach campaigns to contact key influencers who interact with prospective residents so they are fully educated on what’s happening in the community. A great deal of Topeka’s revival has to do with the rebirth of the downtown area. It still isn’t where everyone would like to see it, but all the ingredients are there for it to become the showpiece befitting a capital city with 127,000 residents. A healthy downtown translates into a healthy self-image for a city. “This is the core of the city,” O’Shea said. “If we can expand out from here and increase the vibrancy of the neighborhoods, it should be common ground for everybody.”
Phil Anderson/The Capital-Journal
Chris Schultz, a Topeka native who owns Field of Greens and Break Room businesses in the 900 block of S. Kansas Avenue, says he sees more young people who want to live in the capital city. But it isn’t just downtown that leaders are pointing to as a sign of better things to come in Topeka. The Kansas riverfront is in the process of being developed. And the environs south of downtown, stretching to the Kansas Expocentre at S.W. 17th and Topeka Boulevard, also are on the drawing board. Chris Schultz knows all about Topeka’s downtown and how it correlates to the city’s view of itself. When he was just 22, Schultz opened a salad bar in downtown Topeka. Today, some 15 years later, his business — Field of Greens — is going stronger than ever, as is a companion business, The Break Room. He’s so invested in the city that he ran for mayor. Schultz, 38, said many people have talked about what’s wrong with Topeka through the years.
Potential Actions to Promote a Positive Image n Coordinate marketing messages among Topeka and Shawnee County entities to create a cohesive image. n Communicate positive news and developments through multiple platforms. n Engage area professionals working in human resources, real estate, business These days, he said, the tables have turned and folks are talking about what’s right. When he was a youngster, Schultz said, he would come downtown and visit anchor stores like Dillard’s and MontgomeryWard. Those businesses made it possible for Mom-and-Pop joints to make a go of it. But when West Ridge Mall opened in 1988 on the city’s west side, it took the last two anchor
to highlight local quality of life. n Launch a “boomerang” talent marketing program, designed to reach out to people with local roots about Topeka opportunities and developments. n Disseminate news that affects community perceptions through local media organizations. Source: Market Street strategy report
stores from downtown with it — Dillard’s and Montgomery Ward. Soon, downtown was a virtual ghost town as far as businesses go. Empty storefronts outnumbered those with businesses in them. Schultz said when West Ridge Mall opened, it took more than businesses with it — it sucked the soul out of the city. “They do some good things for the city,” Schultz said of the mall. “But at the expense of
downtown Topeka.” All of that is open to conjecture and discussion. But one thing for certain: All the setbacks downtown Topeka suffered is water under the bridge. It’s history. And you can’t go forward when you’re constantly looking back. “We didn’t make the best decisions and we’re still paying the price on that,” Schultz said. “But a lot of things have changed. The way people communicate has changed. The way people shop has changed. All of those things have changed. “Taking all of them into account and having a fresh canvas to start over with is exactly what downtown Topeka has been able to do, and I hope that energy is something that spreads to the rest of the community, so we can start with building our pride in our community again.”
28 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal
Community assessment: Topeka talent
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Katie Engleheart, site coordinator for Pine Ridge Prep, an early childhood education center in East Topeka, works with students.
Cradle-to-careers pipeline: Extract and refine Topeka talent By Justin Wingerter
On a brisk January morning at Pine Ridge Prep, children in matching red shirts and black pants considered what to build with the blocks before them. A spaceship was the consensus idea among the 3- and 4-yearold boys and girls. A layer of frost covered the roofs — some dilapidated — of houses around the preschool in
East Topeka. The three-classroom school caters to young residents of Pine Ridge Manor, the city’s largest public housing district. It is, by every measure, a success. In five years, it has expanded from one room to three, granting 51 students an early childhood education they might not otherwise have received. It has won state and national awards. The Market Street survey said “more could,
and should, be done to improve and expand” Pine Ridge Prep and similar schools around town. “Anything we can do to better prepare these kids is important,” said Trey George, executive director of the Topeka Housing Authority. “We’re all focused on creating a stronger workforce for Topeka.” It is here that Topeka’s cradle-to-careers pipeline begins. If Topeka is to cultivate
and keep homegrown talent, it must educate its residents, especially those in poorer neighborhoods, the survey found. If youngsters are educated here, they will stay here and improve the workforce, the thinking goes. Sixteen-year-old Chieko Zimmerman would like to do exactly that. She’s a junior at Topeka High School and aspiring second-grade teacher. She often spends two and a
half hours of her school day teaching at Topeka elementary schools. “We’ll get there around 12:30 p.m. and help out in the classroom, do whatever teachers need us to help with,” she said. “So it’s a lot of actual interaction with students.” Zimmerman is teaching in the district where she was taught as part of the Topeka TALENT continues on 29
The Topeka Capital-Journal | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | 29
Talent: Area manufacturers frustrated by skills deficit in city’s workforce Continued from 28
Center for Advanced Learning and Careers, a program for Topeka Public Schools upperclassmen and a crucial component of the cradle-to-careers pipeline. When asked if she plans to stay in the district, her eyes widened: “I would absolutely love to.” Melissa Seacat has headed the TCALC program’s teaching pathway for the past two years. She started with one student, now has 10, and wants more. She has seen graduates go on to study education at Kansas colleges and expects many to return to Topeka. “They’re going to come back here, feel safe and wanted in the district,” she said. “They may go somewhere else for that first job but it’s always going to be in the back of their mind that they can come back here.” Seventeen-year-old Zach Young, another TCALC student, has his own aspirations. The Topeka West senior intends to be either a general practitioner or cardiologist. Through TCALC, he became certified in CPR and first aid. “It’s very hands-on learning. Not too many lectures, so it’s not too boring,” he said. In the spring and summer of 2014, Washburn Tech — in collaboration with the Kansas Department of Commerce and GO Topeka — offered a training initiative known as M-Tech. For eight to 10 weeks in 2014, adults worked eight-hour days Monday through Friday. In exchange, they earned 13 college credit hours, workplace skills and the attention of area manufacturers, such as Goodyear, Frito-Lay and Mars. It represented the last step on the cradle-to-careers pipeline. Tim Clothier, business and industry coordinator at Washburn Tech, said 74 people took part in the program. Half completed it; nearly all received at least one certification. But there was a problem. For many of the graduates, there was no job waiting for them at the end. “You’ve got these trained employees, you’ve vetted
Potential actions to develop homegrown talent n Establish a collective impact partnership that includes all education and training providers, as well as nonprofits, social service providers, faith-based groups and the business community. n Pursue public and private resources to professionally staff and operate a partnership “backbone” entity. n Gather student-level data to gauge effectivenss of programs and to guide decision-making. n Prioritize services to low-incomea nd at-risk populations where needs are greatest and national funding streams are more available. n Work with private-sector partners to provide training, marketing and support for local students within career pathways identified to offer entryway into careers.
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Nicky Kahler, Pine Ridge Prep teacher works with students. them through a lot of training, helped them build a résumé in addition to qualifying them, and at the end, if there’s not a job, some go off to another industry,” Clothier said. Funding in the form of a modest $160,000 grant ran out and, after just two semesters, MTech ended. Reviving it, as the Market Street survey recommends, would require bringing the city’s largest manufacturers back to the table, Clothier said. If the need for employees is there, it could be done. “You see an ebb and flow of
those training opportunities when the need is there,” said Barbara Stapleton, vice president of workforce and education at Go Topeka. “It may not be something that always runs.” Clothier said Washburn toyed with the idea of expanding M-Tech to the city’s high schools, making it available to junior and senior students. Many of M-Tech’s participants were out-of-work adults well past the usual college age. “One of the things we’ve heard from employers is the
need for essential skills,” Stapleton said, “not only with students but also adults who have been in the workforce in the past.” Area manufacturers are frustrated by a deficit of basic skills in the city’s workforce. Too many employees, they say, lack professionalism and integrity, fail to arrive at work or dress appropriately. “One of the really big things that we hear from employers is there are individuals who don’t realize there’s room for improvement,” she said, “because it’s not something that’s been
taught. We need to change that as a culture.” Programs like TCALC can do so at the high school level. M-Tech did at the college and adult level. “We expect a very high level of professionalism and leadership skills from our students,” said Seacat, the TCALC teacher. At Pine Ridge Prep, a family services director works with parents to teach skills to those who were never in the cradleto-careers pipeline or have careened off. “We do a lot to get our parents involved,” said director Katie Englehart. There are monthly family nights, public speakers, breakfasts and bonding. “Anything we can do to get them in here.” Practitioners and participants in the cradle-to-careers pipeline believe talent in Topeka exists like oil in an oil field — in abundance but underground, resting idly. The pipeline extracts it, refines it, puts it to use. “It’s a very long-term process,” Stapleton said, “but there are a lot of things that are aligning and occurring that are beneficial to Topeka employers and our community.”
30 | Sunday, August 6, 2017 | The Topeka Capital-Journal