In FHSU's new president's first visit to Dodge City, Gov. Sam Brownback embraces the merger of DCCC and the university.

Though his behind-the-scenes support for the merging of Dodge City Community College into Fort Hays State University was well recognized, Gov. Sam Brownback made his first public statement supporting the union of the community college and the university, Thursday.

Brownback attended a brief FHSU alumni gathering at the Dodge City Country Club during FHSU President Mirta Martin's first visit to the city that, if the plan survives the political process, will house the university's second campus.

"I think this is a fabulous marriage, putting together Fort Hays State and Dodge City," Brownback told the group. Southwest Kansas is one of the fastest growing regions in the state and the "marriage of a four-year institution into this is just going to hit the accelerator."

He said he particularly thinks the proposed technical institute will have a significant economic impact on the region, he said. "We'll have the trained workforce it takes to do high-tech manufacturing… What we'll have is a high tech workforce."

Kansas is an exporting state and its products have a global reach, he said.  

"It's great to see this partnership move forward," he added.

Martin, who replaced the long-serving Ed Hammond earlier this summer, told the crowd of local dignitaries and FHSU alumni that in her brief time in the state she has fallen in love with it and learned that "My values are Kansas values."

She said she will be reaching out to Dodge City often and plans on taking a "listening tour," but wanted Dodge City residents to know she said she came from the community college system. "I get it," she said. "Community colleges are the onramp to education."

Skills and degree programs taught at community colleges enable students to learn money-making skills at an affordable cost that make higher degrees attainable if desired, she said. "That's where we come in," she said, referring to the university. Though, "We're not separate, we're one family."

"My role now is to make Fort Hays State University, both campuses, the destination sought by everyone," she said, for students and businesses. "We want to import talent and keep it here."

"I'm going to spend a lot of time with y'all," Martin said, her native Cuban accent affected by a gentle Virginia twang.

Hammond, who has been retained by the state for at least two more years to act as Martin's advisor and help with the merger, said he saw the growth of FHSU during his tenure change Hays. I've seen what it does to the community to have that kind of growth," he said, and expects little issue in seeing 3,500 to 4,000 students at an FHSU campus in Dodge City.

"It won't change just Dodge but all of southwest Kansas," Hammond said.

"Timing is perfect for this institute," Commerce Secretary Pat George said of the merger and the administration's manufacturing recruitment plan it intends to release in the fall. "Workforce is obviously important to those kinds of companies."

"What we would be producing is what those manufacturers want."

While the proposed merger would need to make its way through the legislative process, there is "certainly interest" in filling the 10 initial slots for corporate-partner academic programs at the technical institute portion of the Dodge City campus.

"I think we'll have the 10 companies signed up quickly," he said. He plans to meet with a company with a presence in Overland Park that approached the Department of Commerce with interest in establishing a program.

John Deere and "several car manufacturers" are also on the department's radar, he said.