Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer said Ottawa can be an example and a leader for other Kansas cities moving forward.
Colyer said Wednesday during the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Action Committee’s 14th Annual Eggs & Issues at Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, he was impressed with Ottawa’s plan for future growth.
“I am excited about what Ottawa is doing and thinking,” Colyer said. “How do we build the best community overall? You are developing your own plan. You have acquired 300 acres or so for [a business park]. You made a huge investment on downtown. You made a huge investment in [the hospital] and a huge investment in the schools. This is a vibrant place. That is exciting. I am starting to see some of those things happening across the state.”
Colyer is familiar with Ottawa and the hospital, spending a several years working as a surgeon at an RMH outreach clinic.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “This is a fabulous hospital. The quality of healthcare, the operating room, what’s on the floor, the services you have here are really extraordinary. You really deserve a lot of credit for the investment the community has made into this facility. It’s a live, vibrant place. It is a great model for other hospitals across the state and country.”
Colyer, who is in line to step in as governor when Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in President Donald Trump’s administration is finalized, said healthcare is a major national issue.
“Working as a doc here, I saw firsthand what rural healthcare is like, or small-town healthcare is like,” he said. “It is something that is a challenge across every state and every community. It is a central part of how our community grows and what is our future as a community.
“We need to partner more, collaborate more, and work together more, so where our kids see [their] future here. A community like Ottawa, we want to work hand-in-glove with you and supporting you on how do we move forward. That is a long-term conversation and long-term commitment, one that is very real and gritty overall. This is a very exciting time to see what is going on here. It will be a more exciting when we look five or seven years [down the road]. Are we getting there? I think we can. I believe in Kansas.”
Colyer said Kansans have a strong will to succeed and view the future with optimism.
“Overall, the vision of the state is how do we grow the state?” he said. “That is what I am hearing from people. We have to grow and we have to grow in a Kansas way.”
Colyer, who was raised in Hays, learned from his teachers that people are here to serve others, he said.
“We are here to make a difference in people’s lives,” Colyer said. “There are three parts to us. There is a spiritual side to us. There is a physical side. Being a doctor would be a great way to do that. Public service would be a way of influencing that bigger world. I deliberately chose to go down two routes. I have really been working on trying to serve in both of these areas. To me, it was just being a Kansan. That is who we are. Service is very important to us. As I have gone through these two different fields, it has impacted on how [I] approach the world.”
He told stories of how others in the world view Kansas. He volunteered to serve as a surgeon in Sudan during war time. They swapped stories of where they were from. One day at the bottom of the TV scrolled news about Kansas.
Colyer said one of the volunteers said Kansas is the real America...Kansas is the heart of America.
“That is how the rest of the world sees us as,” he said. “That is our spirit. Rest of the world is watching Kansas.”
Colyer sees the state’s political arena becoming friendlier in the future.
“For a longtime, we have had a lot of division,” Colyer said. “We are going to change the tone in Topeka over the next few years. We are going to listen a lot more. We are going to work together a lot more. We are going to collaborate a lot more. We are going to be a lot more professional on a lot of things.”
Colyer said he is in a unique position, serving the last year of Brownback’s term.
“This is the first time you will have a lieutenant governor become governor, then run [for election],” he said. “I want to build upon the great strengths and the optimism that are in Kansas. We are Kansans and we solve problems. You are going to see me push a lot of issues.”
Jobs are a top concern, Colyer said as he answered a question about his vision for the Department of Commerce.
“It is much of the driver for current existing jobs as well as bringing in new jobs to the state from outside as well as how we nurture the jobs we have here,” he said. “I want the Department of Commerce to work very closely with, for example Ottawa or Norton or Hays on how can we assist you in your community. There is not a one size fits all for the state.”
Colyer said his administration will work hard to secure companies — even major ones such as Amazon — to either come to Kansas or expand operations.
“Amazon is thinking about creating a second headquarters,” he said. “They are looking at 50,000 jobs 15 years from now at over $100,000 each. Amazon already has two facilities in Kansas. We are going to put together the most aggressive package for Amazon. The fact that we could compete says boatloads about our state.”