••• Tax & Spending •••

Ads want to attract new Kansans, but jobs aren’t here

This last year, the Kansas Legislature approved $2 million for an ad campaign through the firm Development Counsellors International to try and “win back” residents who have left the state for other destinations. But this approach is like a builder putting duct tape over the cracks in a foundation, slapping their hands, and saying, “Well, this is fine.” Policy should focus more on the reasons why Kansans are leaving, not on trying to mask those problems with ad campaigns.

Other states have existing ad campaigns to attract residents, but across the board, these programs struggle to provide concrete, direct evidence of their success. Ohio’s JobsOhio campaign measures success through “engagement of Ohio on social media” and gives vague claims like “our metrics are trending above benchmarks and our target expectations.” Yet in 2021, Ohio had a net loss of 7,991 residents and $2.1 billion to other US states. Michigan is launching a $10 million ad campaign about its state this summer, yet the state is still 15,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic levels and has had one of the most sluggish recoveries to date.

At the end of the day, the best advertisement is when a state can “speak for itself” through its success. States like Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee are top destinations for domestic migration not because of a robust advertising campaign but because of their documented, ongoing economic success.  Reforms aimed at creating more opportunities like reducing their individual income taxes, eliminating corporate income taxes, keeping the cost of living low due to zoning reform, and more provide the jobs that people need to stay, move to, and ultimately flourish in a given community.

The reason why Kansas lost a net of almost 200,000 residents over the last decade isn’t because the state lacks an ad campaign: it’s because it has been in a quagmire of little economic growth compared to its neighbors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May, Kansas lost a whopping 2,200 private-sector jobs, bringing the state to its lowest job numbers since October 2022. This isn’t a new trend either: according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Kansas ranks 44th in the country in private-sector job growth between 1998 and 2021. Kansas similarly has ranked 37th in the country for wage growth over that same time period.

Kansas has also done a poor job of keeping the cost of living low through tax policy. Kansas’s highest marginal personal income tax rate is 5.70%, ranking 24th in the country. Last year, Missouri brought its top rate down from 5.2 to 4.95%, Iowa enacted a plan to gradually reduce its bracketed system with a top rate of 6.0% down to a flat tax of 3.9%. Meanwhile, a flat tax that would have helped all Kansans was vetoed in this year’s legislative session.

If you build a state that people want to live in, they will come. States like Idaho and Utah once received the same “Who would want to move there?” treatment are two of the fastest-growing populations and economies in the country because of a decade-long commitment to pro-growth policies. Sure, the scenery is nice, but people are relocating there because of the opportunity to provide for their families in those states. Kansas can’t wish itself mountains or beaches, but we can take control of our tax and regulatory policies to make this a better place to build communities.