Financial services summit brings quality of life to forefront of Topeka workforce discussions

A keynote speaker at the third annual Financial Services Summit called the Kansas City International airport an “embarrassment” and pushed those in attendance to think about what the airport had cost their businesses.


“That’s an embarrassment out there,” said John Huff, a partner in Dentons law firm and a former president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “You know it, and I know it, and the people who want to keep that airport the way it is, they don’t understand the pressure that you and I are under in the business community. You have lost a recruit for your company because of that airport. I guarantee you have. You have a lost a client with your firm because of that airport.”

After a long-fought and controversial battle, the Kansas City Council on Thursday evening voted to turn the issue over to voters to decide if a remodel of the airport is needed.

Huff, who pulled no punches on several issues, pointed to the airport remodel as one that affects workforce and the way companies do business. Eighty-eight percent of the passengers are not from Kansas City, Mo., he pointed out.

“I think it impacts people in Topeka the same way that it impacts people in the Northland,” Huff said.

The idea that quality of life and issues like airports, downtowns and bike paths might affect business popped up several times throughout the day-long summit, which explores what’s happening and what’s needed to support the financial services sector of the Kansas economy. Nick Jordan, interim secretary for the Kansas Department of Commerce, said more than 70,000 people work in financial services in the state and the financial insurance sector represents 7 percent of the state’s total gross domestic product.

In discussions about workforce challenges, panelists talked about the fact that business owners and employees must be involved in creating better communities so they can draw employees.

Shawn Naccarato, chief strategy officer for Pittsburg State University, was on the workforce development panel, talking with others about how his university supports growth for the financial sector.

In a public-private partnership called Block 22, the university joined with Pittsburg city officials to support a redevelopment that will place 100-plus dorm rooms and offices focused on entrepreneurship in four older buildings in downtown Pittsburg, he said.

“As we all know, the greatest asset that we have in Kansas is our people. And most of those people and many of those best people have come from small and rural town places in Kansas,” Naccarato said. “And unfortunately a lot of those places are dying. It’s incumbent upon us, particularly as regional institutions, public institutions, to address directly how we help to shore up not only through talent development but talent attraction, and targeted economic development and quality of place.”

The summit also addressed industry innovation, regulatory challenges and growth opportunities.

The annual event was sponsored by the Kansas Department of Commerce, the Kansas Insurance Department, GO Topeka and Security Benefit.