Orlin Wagner, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday he's optimistic about where the Kansas economy is heading in the near future, saying signs of growth in new aviation sectors, energy development and agriculture businesses point to better times ahead.
The Republican governor told The Associated Press that despite the possibility that Boeing could eliminate more than 2,000 jobs at its plant in Wichita, orders for Boeing's commercial aircraft remain strong and will benefit aviation-related companies in Kansas.
"I'm very bullish on the state. Things are starting to move forward," Brownback said.
Brownback said he thinks Kansas will add aviation jobs, including expanding work in commuter aircraft in Wichita.
Boeing's defense unit has said it is studying the future of its Wichita plant, despite winning an Air Force contract to build the next generation of refueling tankers. The company said in 2010 that winning the contract would mean thousands of jobs for Kansas, but now the plant's future is now in doubt.
Brownback said he wanted to meet with Boeing officials and make the state's case for keeping the jobs.
"Nobody's giving up on anything but I want more jobs," the governor said.
On Wednesday, Brownback and the other eight members of the State Finance Council approved issuing $6 million in bonds for Bombardier LearJet for expansion of its Wichita operations. The company will use the money for its LearJet 85 commuter jet program, which has received $33 million in total for the project on promises of several hundred new jobs.
Brownback said he expects Kansas to gain jobs and revenue in energy development, including wind power generation and new leases for hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas production.
"We've got several deals in the hopper of major private sector, either expansion or coming into the state, that if we can get a few of them to land, we'll really stimulate a core piece of the Kansas economy," Brownback said, declining to give details about the prospects.
During the past year, Brownback has hosted a series of economic summits on topics including animal agriculture, aviation, biosciences, water and the military defense industry. He also signed legislation to encourage rural development by granting five-year income tax abatements for people who move to Kansas from out of state and settle in a county that has experienced double-digit population declines.
Aimed at helping small communities, the plan includes a tuition repayment program for college graduates who move to participating counties. More than 120 graduates have applied for the program.
The former U.S. senator has released a number of policy initiatives ahead of the Jan. 9 start of the 2012 legislative session, including reforming the state's Medicaid program, reorganizing human service agencies and rewriting the school finance formula. A tax plan and details for stabilizing the $14 billion budget will come during his State of the State address.
As 2012 approaches, Kansas has shown signs of an economic recovery. The unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in October, the most recent figure available, down from 6.9 percent the previous year. State tax collections are running $142.6 million above the same period in the previous fiscal year after Brownback and Republican legislators pared spending.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said while she appreciated Brownback's positive attitude she would temper the enthusiasm based on the number of workers still unemployed or working for reduced wages and benefits.
"I'm not bullish yet, but I hope that it does recover," said Wagnon, who served as secretary of revenue for Democratic Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. "I think we need to get those people back to work. I think it's too early to say we've won."
As of October, there were 93,000 Kansas residents unemployed, down from more than 100,000 a year ago.
Wagnon said headwinds in the global economy, including concerns about the European debt crisis threaten to put the United States back in recession, which could kill any prospects for Kansas growth.
"I don't think we are clear of that," she said.
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