More than 60 years after President Harry Truman included Kansas City as one of the original 10 regional headquarters cities for his new General Services Administration, this area continues to owe an important part of its prosperity to the federal employees based here.
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
The federal government, either directly or through contracts, employs 41,500 people in the metropolitan area with a combined annual payroll of more than $3 billion, making it by far the biggest employer in the region. And for every federal job, there are one to two estimated spinoff private jobs.
Just last week, that same Heartland Region GSA office established by Truman in 1949 announced it was seeking rental space in downtown Kansas City for 1,000 federal employees now at the Bannister Federal Complex. In November, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service said it would be hiring 800 employees over the next 10 months.
And next year, the National Nuclear Security Administration is scheduled to begin moving its nuclear weapons parts operation managed by Honeywell at the Bannister facility into a new replacement plant. The massive complex cost $590 million to build and will keep 2,500 well-paid jobs in the area for many years.
When you look at the location, economy and expertise in Kansas City, its easy to understand why so many agencies have wound up in the region and thats a trend I see continuing in the years to come. said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who recently won re-election.
Jim Heeter, president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said his organization expanded its board of directors two years ago to include a representative from the Federal Executive Board, which represents 146 federal agencies in the metro area.
Thats how important the chamber feels these employees and the federal government and its agencies are to the area economy, he said.
Brad Scott, a former regional director for the GSA, said Truman laid the groundwork as far back as 1940 when he broke ground for the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence.
More than 70 years later, the plant still employs 2,500 people.
Harry Truman was well known and renowned for his love for Kansas City and Independence, Scott said. He was very involved in federal contracting and ensuring the federal government got the best bang for the buck.
That political legacy of taking care of the Kansas City area has continued over the years.
The job of regional General Service Administration director is a patronage position, and whether it was a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, the Kansas City area has fared well historically.
Woody Overton, the regional GSA director appointed by Democratic president Bill Clinton, estimated that a half billion dollars of projects were built in the area during the 1990s.
They included the Charles Whittaker Federal Courthouse and Department of Transportation building, which housed 600 Federal Aviation Administration employees in downtown Kansas City, and the Environmental Protection Agency building in downtown Kansas City, Kan.
Scott, who was appointed by Republican president George W. Bush, took that legacy another giant step, assisted greatly by the seniority, power and expertise of former Republican senator Kit Bond.
Working in tandem with Bond, Scott has played a key role helping spin off major developments from the 310-acre Bannister Federal Complex.
It started in 2006 with the $370 million Internal Revenue Service processing center that opened near Union Station. The facility employs about 2,500 full-time workers and adds thousands more temporary jobs during tax season.
In January 2007, the National Archives regional office moved from Bannister to a new $13 million facility at Union Station.
And the biggest spinoff is the 1.57 million-square-foot Honeywell nuclear weapons parts plant the government began paying $61.6 million annual rent on last month.
With the help of Sen. Bond, Congressman (Emanuel) Cleaver and others, we were able to get things done because this region has the ability to come up with common sense solutions, Scott said.
Cleaver said federal workers are a critical component of the local economy.
Creating and retaining jobs in Missouris 5th District has been and remains a top priority, he said. Federal employees here perform a range of jobs, from police officers and lawyers to mechanics and nurses.
The sheer size of their presence in the local workforce also has helped buffer the Kansas City area during economic downturns, said Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
One of the things that have always been observed about Kansas City is we weather recessions better than other places because we have a nice distribution of types of employment, she said.
Theres a balance between private and public sector employment.
Frank Lenk, director of research services at the Mid-America Regional Council, said federal jobs have the added value of bringing money to the region.
Its more important than just employment, he said. Its like have an exporting industry because it brings money from outside the region and then circulates it among local businesses, whether office space or machinery.
Lenk estimated each federal job generates one or two private jobs.
Joan Flaherty, steward for Local 1336 of the American Federation of Government Employees, said jobs held by her unions 2,500 members, many of whom work for the Social Security Administration, are bread-and-butter basic jobs for people.
Theyre like everybody, she said. They come to work trying to help people with their issues.
Jason Klumb, the current regional director of the GSA, said good things should continue to come to Kansas City because of its well-qualified workforce and relatively low cost of business.
He pointed to the decision in September by the Marine Corps to extend its lease on a local data center that employs 435 people through 2017.
From the local GSA perspective, were very proud to tell the heartland story to Washington, Klumb said.
We have a well-educated workforce and theyre affordable, and we can put them in space at a fraction of the cost in Washington or the coasts.
One of the latest prizes being pursued by Kansas City is a Federal Aviation Administration training center thats set to close by the end of the month in Florida. Local officials believed they had landed the 100-employee Center for Management and Executive Leadership last year, but the Florida congressional delegation blocked the move temporarily.
The FAA is planning to begin soliciting bids again soon for the center, although its structure might change. But if the deal is still attractive, local developers will continue trying to bring the center to downtown Kansas City.
In addition to the full-time federal jobs, the facility brings thousands of FAA managers from around the country for training. That would generate an additional 20,000 hotel nights annually, along with more business for restaurants and other businesses.
There have been some setbacks.
The Census Bureau is scheduled to close its office in Kansas City, Kan., by the end of the year. And while the Marines have committed to keeping their data center five additional years, New Orleans is making a strong pitch to move the facility there.
Still, Klumb says the economic appeal of Kansas City will keep the community competitive for years to come.
Over the next couple of years, I think theres a strong business case to be made to locate federal employees here as the federal government continues to try to cut costs.
To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.