Although wheat production has long been the mainstay of the Kansas economy, efforts to bring other industries into the state began as early as the 1870s, when the railroads linked Kansas to eastern markets. By 2000, agricultural products and meat-packing industries were rivaled by the large aircraft industry centered in Wichita. Four Kansas companies, all located in Wichita, manufacture 70% of the world's general aviation aircraft. The Kansas City metropolitan area is a center of automobile production and printing. Metal fabrication, printing, and mineral products industries predominate in the nine southeastern counties. Kansas continues to lead all states in wheat production. The national recession of 2001 had a relatively mild impact on the Kansas economy. The annual economic growth rate, which had averaged 5% 1998 to 2000, dipped to 3.2% in 2001. Net job creation, though sharply slowed by layoffs in 2001 and 2002, including several rounds of layoffs in the Wichita aircraft manufacturing industry, remained positive, in contrast to the nation as whole in which job creation turned to net layoffs in the second half of 2001 and stayed negative throughout 2002. In December 2002, however, unemployment in Kansas was at the relatively high level of 4.6%. The farm sector was also afflicted by drought conditions, which persisted into the winter of 2002–2003. In 2002, on a year-on-year basis, wheat production was down 19%, corn production down 26%, and soybean production down 29%. Kansas's rural population continues its long-term decline as people migrate to urban areas seeking better employment opportunities. Since 1970, 67 of the state's 105 counties have lost population, and in 19 of these the rate of decrease accelerated during the 1990s. From 1997 to 2001, Kansas farm output experienced a net decrease of 34.5%, from $2.7 billion to $1.8 billion.

Kansas's gross state product in 2001 was 44th largest among the states at $87.2 billion, to which general services contributed $15.5 billion; trade, $15.1 billion, manufacturing, $14.1 billion; government, $12 billion, financial services, $11.7 billion, and transportation and public utilities, $11.1 billion. The public sector constituted 13.8% of gross state product in 2001.