Kansas River, good schools, pro-business climate are big contributors
Maybe Dorothy was right when she said there was no place like home–in Kansas. During the past 15 years, the population of Topeka has grown by more than six percent as more and more people discover that city's excellent quality of life. Mayor Larry Wolgast says a collection of amenities in Topeka been key reason for people relocating and deciding to stay where they grew up.
“Especially for younger people, they often tend to choose a city for livability reasons even before choosing a job,” Wolgast says. “We're lucky to have top restaurants, entertainment venues and good career choices for people thinking about Topeka.”
For attractions, the capital city of the Sunflower State welcomes 30,000 workers to its downtown every weekday, and the State Capitol building recently underwent a $300 million renovation that made it into a major tourism destination.
“Downtown also has the Kansas River flowing through it, and plans are in place to totally develop the riverfront for entertainment, boating and recreation opportunities,” Wolgast says. “We've had national experts tell us that our riverfront has the potential to become one of the finest in the nation.”
Also occurring downtown are infrastructure upgrades along South Kansas Avenue, the district's main thoroughfare.
“Downtown is the scene of much revitalization, including multi-millions of dollars in investment from the private sector,” Wolgast says. “For example, several young business owners in their 20s and 30s have recently opened downtown businesses.”
As for the entire city, quality of life amenities include two sports complexes, a large trail system for both walking and biking, a NOTO (North Topeka) arts district with antique stores, and a summertime Sunflower Music Festival that attracts bands from around the country.
“For kids and their parents, our outstanding Topeka Zoo is being enlarged, and a Kansas Children's Discovery Center has dozens of interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits,” he says. “It's easy to find things to do in Topeka.”
Washburn, Hospitals and M&Ms
Besides attractions, Topeka has an excellent Kansas public schools system known for its academic programming, and Washburn University houses one of the top 20 law schools in the United States. Also serving students is Washburn Institute of Technology, while all residents have access to top medical care at two major hospitals – Stormont-Vail HealthCare and St. Francis Health.
“For companies thinking of locating here, Topeka is very business friendly and offers good incentives from the city and county, plus voters approved a half-cent sales tax that goes toward economic development efforts,” Wolgast says. “Some of our major employers include Frito-Lay, Goodyear Tire & Rubber and BNSF Railway, and Mars Chocolate North America chose us two years ago for its $270 million plant and has already announced a $100 million expansion for producing M&Ms and bite-size Snickers bars.”
Topeka is also ideal for warehousing companies due to the city's location at the cross-section of Interstates 70 and 335, with major companies like Target and The Home Depot establishing distribution centers here.
“We also feature a 712 Innovations entrepreneur incubator that currently has about 80 tenants, with entrepreneurs from Topeka as well as Lawrence, Manhattan, Omaha and Kansas City because nothing like it exists in those cities,” Wolgast says. “Topeka has a lot going for it, both now and for years to come.”