Topeka Has Momentum
An open letter to the Citizens of Topeka & Shawnee County
The last five years have been transformational in the life of Topeka and Shawnee County. After years of self doubt and false starts, our community came together in 2017 to establish a unifying strategy for success. Momentum 2022 was born. That strategy served as a roadmap and a north star. Public and private leaders aligned on the common objectives of developing homegrown talent, creating vibrant places, diversifying our economy, improving our image, and collaborating with one another for a stronger community. This strategy proved to be an unparalleled success.
Today, as we look back on that work, we should marvel at the breadth of what we accomplished together. In just five short years, we improved our net promoter score by 63%, cut crime by 25%, reduced our poverty rate by 40%, and increased household incomes by 24%. In fact, when you consider communities in Kansas that have over 100,000 residents, Shawnee County is now second only to Johnson County for lowest poverty in the state! Our GDP rose by over $1 billion, and our population reached a record high in Shawnee County by 2020. Topeka went from a community that was insecure about its role in the region, to a vibrant and confident city that captured the attention of not just the state of Kansas, but due to innovative programs like Choose Topeka, caught the attention of the world, with over $11 million in earned media. Today, the city boasts the third hottest housing market in the United States, and a bustling downtown that beams from over $100 million in new investment.
Five years ago, we developed a strategy that was designed to help our community change course and achieve its potential. Today, we present a strategy that is designed to capitalize on our momentum, build on our successes, and lift our community to unprecedented heights. Now more than ever, we need to work together, continue to seek out new voices and ideas, and embrace change. Momentum 2027 will take us forward. This five-year program was built to unlock growth and economic opportunity for all, and is founded on principals of equity and inclusive prosperity.
We are proud to put our names behind Momentum 2027, and we encourage everyone to embrace the opportunity to invest in the work that is to come. Our continued growth and success depends on the focus and commitment of partners like you. We urge you to consider getting involved and give this strategy special consideration as we fully fund and implement Momentum 2027. The last five years prove what Topeka and Shawnee County can accomplish. Your investment and support will ignite what is possible over the next five. If our past success is any indicator, buckle up and get ready, because you haven’t seen anything yet.
Want to get involved and be part of the change? Fill out the Momentum Task Force form and let’s get to work.
John B. Dicus
President & CEO
Capitol Federal Savings Bank
Dr. Shekhar Challa
Immediate Past Chair
Chair of Chamber
Forge Young Talent
Mayor of Topeka
“A city doesn’t just happen. This place is where
dreams, hard work, and aspiration all collide.
The future of our community is what we make it,
so let’s be sure we make it a good one.”
-Matt Pivarnik, CEO
Greater Topeka Partnership
“I always believed this city had the capacity for transformation. . I am proud to say that we were an early investor, and I would encourage others to partner
in Momentum 2027.”
Chairman, Bartlett & West Inc.
The Shawnee County 2038 Comprehensive Plan adopted in November 2018 included a chapter on Housing and Neighborhoods assessing future demand and recommending tactical priorities for the county’s future housing sector. It advised county officials to focus on fostering the construction of affordable housing options while letting the market produce higher-end homes. To complement countywide goals in the Comprehensive Plan, the City of Topeka commissioned a Citywide Housing Market Study and Strategy to assess the city’s housing needs at all income levels and establish actionable strategies to improve existing housing stock and effectively plan to meet future demand. On December 8, 2020 the City of Topeka adopted an Implementation Plan for the Citywide Housing Market Study and Strategy that further prioritized short-and-long term activities.
To proactively influence policy makers and voters and identify strategies to further advance market-rate residential development in viable neighborhoods, Topeka-Shawnee County should assemble a Housing Advocacy Task Force of key leaders and expert to guide local efforts to resource and build for-purchase and rental housing of all types. Facilitated Task Force meetings would customize narratives to establish policy priorities, build consensus around enhancing and better utilizing existing incentives, and promote new housing opportunities in proven sub-markets.
To plan for the next generation of downtown development, the Topeka Planning and Development Department produced an updated Downtown Master Plan (DMP) which was approved by the Topeka Governing Body on May 4, 2021. Setting the stage for the next ten years of downtown development, it built on the efforts of the 2019 Downtown Market Study by creating a series of District Plans based on the market study recommendations; NOTO/River North was one of these districts. Each District Plan included prescribed land use, zoning, and streetscape improvements and allocated shares of the Market Study’s ten-year recommendations for housing units, office uses, retail, and hotel beds.
Leveraging years of planning and proposed development scenarios along the Kansas River in Downtown Topeka, local leaders have determined that current opportunities warrant a major push to transform the city’s riverfront. Current plans call for the development of a “vision book” for the Kansas Riverfront, informed by extensive community input. The final vision book would catalyze efforts to raise funds for preferred projects and initiatives. District Plans in the Downtown Master Plan could directly inform and direct riverfront development opportunities.
To enhance perceptions of Topeka-Shawnee County among residents, visitors, and investment prospects, the community would focus on aesthetic improvements at priority gateways and roadway corridor segments through multi-pronged, coordinated efforts. The gateway component would initially focus on the transformation of one or more principal entry points to Downtown Topeka into a signature gateway(s) for the city. Complementing the gateway initiative would be expanded efforts to upgrade the look, quality, and vitality of key corridor segments across Topeka-Shawnee County. Activities could focus on 1) Street maintenance; 2) Beautification; and 3) Development support.
The arts engagement organization, ArtsConnect, is coordinating the development of an Arts and Culture Master Plan to answer the questions, “What does this community need?” and “How can the arts provide a springboard for this?” Based on these findings, the Topeka Arts and Culture Master Plan will guide the work of arts organizations and artists in alignment with established community priorities and work plans, offering a pathway forward for the arts and culture sector in Topeka.
To improve public health, expand talent-and-family-friendly assets, and create new opportunities for sports tourism, Topeka-Shawnee County should prioritize initiatives that promote active recreation. These include: 1) Building a new destination family park near the Southwest Topeka Aquatics Park; 2) Development of a Master Plan for Gage Park; 3) Implementation of the Topeka Fast-Track Bike Plan; and 4) Development of new and expanded youth sports facilities that position Topeka-Shawnee County to compete for hosting tournaments and reducing local families’ travel requirements to out-of-market events.
Business retention and expansion (BRE) visits will utilize customized survey instruments to record and track companies’ current and projected growth trajectories, talent demands, expansion opportunities, infrastructure and technology needs, and concerns that could be assisted through legislative and regulatory advocacy. Results of BRE surveys will inform staff efforts across Greater Topeka Partnership affiliates to ensure that Topeka-Shawnee County employers receive the support necessary to sustain and grow their operations.
The Career Connections Program would be a centralized, managed hub to connect interested students with local firms offering job shadowing, internship, and apprenticeship slots. The program operator would work closely with Pre-K to 12 school districts, two-and-four-year colleges, and employers to maintain a clearinghouse of experiential learning opportunities at Topeka-Shawnee County companies and ensure education and training faculty and career placement officers were aware of – and utilized – this resource for students looking for workplace experience in their desired fields.
The ASTRA (Animal Science, Technology, Research, and Agriculture) Innovation Center is envisioned as a 60,000 square foot project anchoring a planned Innovation District in downtown Topeka. The campus will seek to leverage the estimated 20 global startups participating each year in Plug and Play and serve as the “center of gravity” of global entrepreneurial ecosystem-building activities in Topeka-Shawnee County. Eventually, the campus could be utilized for networking and meetup events, how-to sessions and classes, information sharing, and co-location of support services, organizations, and personnel. Mentorship and business growth counseling could also be concentrated on site.
Assisting a formal or loosely affiliated group of entrepreneurs, technologists, small businesspeople, faculty, enterprise support personnel, and other stakeholders with cultivating a more dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem in Topeka-Shawnee County would create more fertile ground for home-grown startup development and retention of firms incubated through Plug and Play. GO Topeka and other area resources and stakeholders should continue efforts in planning, development, and hosting of entrepreneurial networking events, pitch competitions, informational sessions, incubator or programs, volunteer mentors for inexperienced founders, “matchmaking” between startups and potential capital providers, and other initiatives. accelerator
GO Topeka markets Topeka-Shawnee County to corporate prospects outside the region by developing and updating the content on the organization’s economic development website (gotopeka.com); investing in paid media through advertising placements in key trade and business publications; securing earned media coverage via a public relations contract with a national firm; building relationships with site selection professionals and corporate relocation officers; traveling to targeted relocation markets and industry conferences; in-market hosting of influencers and prospects; and leveraging incentives tools to finalize relocation deals. Allowing for the continuous need to assess targeted priorities, BRS does not envision Topeka-Shawnee County’s external corporate marketing and attraction activities changing in Momentum 2027.
GO Topeka would formalize a process to cultivate a group of development firms to position as qualified partners for local and out-of-market economic development prospects. This would entail reaching out to existing local companies and identifying potential outside firms to engage in discussions on Topeka-Shawnee County opportunities and how to capture them.
The Cradle-to-Career Collaborative and Data Exchange (working title) will be a formalized coalition among Shawnee County Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) to 12 school districts and key partners to share and leverage data to inform district-level planning, curricula and programming, facilities development, technology needs, and partnerships to best serve the needs of students advancing to higher education and the workplace. The Data Exchange will aggregate performance data from all participating districts to determine county-wide trends, achievement gaps, and supplement district-level data to guide decision-making. The goal of the Collaborative and Data Exchange will be to enhance coordination and alignment among Shawnee County districts to optimize the talent pipeline from the cradle to careers.
Washburn Next (working title) would become a community-wide effort to support Washburn University and Washburn Institute of Technology (Washburn Tech) to become maximum-impact institutions that recruit, retain, and graduate work-ready students to power Topeka-Shawnee County’s future workforce. The initiative will capitalize on the unique nature of the campuses as co-governed entities to advance institutional strategies that take advantage of the strengths of each campus to create a seamless pipeline of talent to local employers. Washburn Next will not replace existing institutional strategies but leverage community partners to optimize their components and implementation.
To complement existing programs, Topeka-Shawnee County would create an online Career Navigation Center as a partnership of area education and training providers and other support entities to serve as a virtual one-stop shop for adults looking to reenter the workforce or upskill into new careers. The Center would not directly provide training but serve an intermediary function, working to advise and connect adults with education and workforce programming, scholarships and grants, and available support services to guide them on their journey towards new skill attainment and more rewarding employment. Operating virtually, a rotating schedule of advisors from local colleges, universities, training centers, and social services providers would be available via appointment to provide free advisement to adults interested in obtaining a new degree or credential or completing a program where they accrued credits but did not graduate.
Because of its impact on the ability of adults to access training and the workplace, GO Topeka should empanel and administer a Child Care Task Force as a component of its existing business programming. The task force would research, evaluate, and recommend viable opportunities to increase child care availability in Topeka-Shawnee County. Collaborative discussions could center around opportunities for local companies to partner on shared solutions to the child care crisis, including the potential to expand the capacity and eligibility requirements for existing programs and the creation of new jointly sponsored and funded programs and centers.
During the week of January 24, a group of carefully selected leaders participated in a facilitated retreat to discuss and decide upon the framework of a comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for Topeka-Shawnee County. The framework is the first step of a weeks-long process to formalize an actionable strategy to diffuse diversity and inclusion concepts and supportive actions into the functional fabric of Topeka-Shawnee County’s community and economic life.
The “My Topeka” campaign (working title) would seek to engage and empower everyday citizens to take pride in where they live and express that pride publicly. The campaign is envisioned as a multi-platform, multi-media internal communications initiative to elevate Net Promoter Score sentiments and create positive community advocates. The campaign could have an online portal, social media feeds, branded merchandise, social media influencer cultivation, opportunities for sponsorships and affiliated events, and leverage and inform promotional activities of local multi-state and multinational corporations.
The Choose Topeka program was developed out of Momentum 2022 as an incentive to stem the tide of talent working in Shawnee County but living elsewhere. To continue leveraging the program as the region’s principal talent recruitment initiative, program officials acknowledge that enhancements must be made. Principal among them is a focus not only on attracting new residents but keeping them in Greater Topeka for the long haul. There is also the potential to expand Choose Topeka into more of a comprehensive talent attraction campaign focused on key markets and direct outreach to Topeka expatriates.
Greater Topeka works to retain the next generation of local talent through multiple programs, including Leadership Greater Topeka, the Forge Young Talent young professional network, the Topeka Youth Commission, and Executive Immersion Services designed to enhance the transition for senior executives and C-Suite leadership new to Topeka-Shawnee County. Along with continuously assessing and improving existing programs, stakeholders identified additional groups that would benefit from talent-immersion efforts, including college students and select existing business leaders.