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.

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 fasciliate 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 accummulation of nearly $20 billion in private-sector investment in the state.

“The most important thing for you to say might just be, ‘Hey, there’s good things happening in town and we miss you. We want you to come home,'” Toland said. “That’s what Love, Kansas is all about. Growing the pie. Getting more humans into this place that we love. We believe very strongly that the best and most efficient and most effective approach for doing that is not to just put a billboard up on I-95 on the East Coast or California somewhere and say, ‘Move to Kansas.'”

The marketing initative to boost the state’s population by drawing upon past residents will be focused at the local level, but feature national digital and social media components. In-person events in and out of the state will play a role in reaching potential boomerangs, the Department of Commerce said.

How lucky we are

 

Sage Williams, a Wichita native who moved to Missouri to attend college, followed job offers to Atlanta. He later came back to Kansas, because he yearned for a stronger sense of community. He wanted to believe there were people in his circle that would take the shirt off their back to make certain another was clothed.

“Many of you all would say, ‘Why Kansas?’ I say, ‘Why not?’ Kansas is a place that has changed my entire life. Every single day growing up I always took it out on Kansas. I said, ‘There’s nothing to do. It’s boring.’ You move. You go down South. You go anywhere else, and you realize that there’s no one … that is going to pour into you just like the people here in Kansas. That is why I moved back to Kansas.”

Miranda Bruening spent her youth in Independence, Greensburg and Fredonia. After graduating from Kansas State, she moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. She showed up two years later in Independence, where she owns an architecture and design firm.

“I had no intention of coming back to Kansas to stay, but I came back for life reasons,” Bruening said. “Here I am about 12 years later and I can’t imagine not ever being here.”

Louisburg native Garrett Griffin participated in football and track at the U.S. Air Force Academy before a career as a tight end in the NFL, primarily with the New Orleans Saints. He’s a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and his family chose to reside in Overland Park.

“I played in the NFL for seven years. I’m not saying that to brag. Nobody in this room probably knows who I am, but I would like to point out that the main reason I got to where I did was because my community. My wife is from New Orleans and we moved our kids back here and we’re reminded every day how lucky we are. I’m very excited to give my kids the same childhood that I had.”