Kansas launches ‘boomerang’ campaign

The goal of "Love, Kansas" is to encourage former residents to come home to live and work. Lt. Gov. David Roland said the pitch doesn't have to be perfect but it must be authentic.

By

State News

July 2, 2024 - 2:07 PM

Lt. Gov. David Toland, secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce. Photo by Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector

MANHATTAN — Melissa McCoy grew up in southwest Kansas, graduated from Kansas State University and spent nearly a decade as a educator in Mexico City.

In 2006, she decided to return to Kansas with her husband to get away from the hurlyburly of a rapidly growing megacity of more than 18 million. She now serves as assistant city manager in Dodge City. McCoy, in Kansas Department of Commerce lingo, fits the profile of a boomerang. She was raised in Kansas, departed Kansas and came back to Kansas.

“We started looking at what that calmer life might bring and we chose Dodge City, which ended up being a great fit for us because not only was it close to my family and my friends, but also my husband and I are both bilingual. We are both able to put those skills to work to help our community,” she said.

McCoy was among five people who offered testimonials Monday at Flint Hills Discovery Center about reasons for transforming their life by electing to come back to Kansas. These shared experiences are what Lt. Gov. David Toland, secretary of the state Department of Commerce, said he hoped could be replicated on a much larger scale.

The state agency launched a national talent-attraction campaign to lure former residents who left for economic or lifestyle reasons back to the Sunflower State. The Legislature set the budget for “Love, Kansas” at $2 million. The goal is to bring home 1,000 people within the first year.

“It’s simple: We need more humans in Kansas to keep up with the phenomenal economic growth our state is experiencing,” Toland said. “The best way to do that is to first approach Kansans who left the state for economic opportunities elsewhere and invite them to build a life in a place they know and have connections to, whether in their hometown or elsewhere in the state.”

Of course, he said, the invite would be extended broadly to families from around the country willing to invest of themselves in Kansas.

Melissa McCoy, who was raised in southwest Kansas but spent nearly a decade living in Mexico City before moving back to Kansas, is participating in the “Love, Kansas” campaign to convince 1,000 former Kansans to return to the state. Photo by Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector

Be authentic, sincere

The sales pitches will come from individual Kansans making appeals by letter, telephone or text to someone they know who fit the used-to-live-in-Kansas demographic and might be willing to return to the Midwest. State and local governments, volunteer organizations, universities and community colleges agreed to tap into their networks and facilitate these personal appeals.

After the drumline was idled, the celebratory balloons were dropped, the university mascots ended their performance and the saloon dancers had exited, attendees were asked to make that first overture to someone they know. It could be in any form — just simple and sweet. Toland dropped the first of those into a temporary mail box.

“We know how to get to them,” Toland said. “What I want to encourage you though to remember is that the pitch doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be authentic. It has to be sincere. It has to be about what’s going on in the state and why you think there’s value in them considering coming home.”

Nineteen cities or counties signed up to be pilot the grassroots campaign. The first 50 communities to commit will receive $5,000 grants to support local gatherings, events or ideas for getting the word out.

Toland had lived in Washington, D.C., for a decade when he received a call about job opportunities in his hometown of Iola. He knows what it meant to consider realities of pulling up stakes and what it felt like to decide to point the car toward Kansas.

He said Kansans striving to put Love, Kansas in motion didn’t need to memorize economic development statistics about growth in the state’s food processing and financial technology sectors. Details about new manufacturing jobs in southcentral Kansas didn’t have to roll off the tongue. Nor was it necessary to point to the largest electric vehicle battery plant in the world under construction by Panasonic in De Soto.

He said it wasn’t essential to emphasize the creation during the past six years of 67,000 jobs in Kansas or the accumulation of nearly $20 billion in private-sector investment in the state.

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