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'Big 5' progress touted at Kansas City Chamber event

Updated: 2013-09-20T01:00:36Z

By DIANE STAFFORD

The Kansas City Star

One of the big slams against the Kansas City area has long been that startups and small businesses can’t get the local funding they need to grow.

One of the city’s “Big 5” initiatives — to create the nation’s “most entrepreneurial city” — is hitting back.

Among dozens of successes tallied Thursday by leaders of a 2-year-old civic-improvement effort was announcement of a capital investment fund for startup entrepreneurs.

The new investment group, dubbed FlyOver Capital and composed of a half-dozen wealthy, anonymous private investors, has pledged more than $25 million for a new entrepreneurial investment pool.

And that was just one of several multi-million-dollar commitments associated with the Big 5 initiatives set by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

A panel of 10 business, civic and academic leaders talked about the successes at a chamber event. Those included a previously announced $20 million gift to help create a downtown arts campus for students and the recently announced $75 million grant toward a medical research facility.

Both projects are contingent on getting more funding from other sources, but they were counted on a long list of measurable Big 5 victories.

The event reported on goals that were unveiled in September 2011 to:

• Make Kansas City America’s most entrepreneurial city.

• Create a regional translational medical research institute.

• Build on the existing “animal health corridor” by holding a world symposium on animal health.

• Move UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance from the main campus to downtown Kansas City.

• Pinpoint an urban core redevelopment project in Kansas City to improve housing, employment and crime statistics.

Speakers repeatedly used words such as “collaboration,” “catalyst” and “partnerships” in their reports and emphasized that the initiatives were more “movements” than finite projects.

“None was a slam dunk,” said this year’s chamber chairman, Russ Welsh. “Some don’t have an end in sight.”

For example, the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, a new entity to lead renewal of a specific central Kansas City area, is making headway, but planners are looking as far as two decades ahead to champion results.

The overall mood Thursday was one of celebration that none of the objectives had crashed and burned. In fact, some of the squishiest goals appeared to have hit the target.

Research by the animal health corridor committee determined that the area between Manhattan, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., already has a global reputation and statistically provable role as the world center for the animal health industry.

In fact, the Kansas City area already holds some of the most important international meetings in the animal science field. In short, the “global symposium” goal was accomplished, said Gary Forsee, the former Sprint Corp. and former University of Missouri leader who led that initiative.

Peter deSilva, president of UMB Financial Corp., who led the entrepreneurial city effort, announced several successes in addition to the FlyOver Capital creation. That included raising about half of the $15 million needed to build a new Free Enterprise Center, a networking site for entrepreneurs on the UMKC campus.

DeSilva also reported that, matched with $1 million from Kansas City’s largest corporations, UMKC’s KCSourceLink, a small-business resource center, has received $1 million over five years from a U.S. Department of Commerce program.

Several speakers emphasized the chamber’s backing of a question on the Nov. 5 ballot for Jackson County voters, which would create a half-cent sales tax for a proposed translational medical research institute.

Patrick James, an executive at Quest Diagnostics and leader of the medical research initiative, said the proposed $40 million-a-year tax would “fill a gap” for medical research between the Stowers Institute and the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

The chamber backs the tax, to support a new Jackson County Institute for Translational Research and Medicine on the Children’s Mercy Hospital Hill campus. Hallmark Cards chairman Don Hall Sr. and the Hall Family Foundation have pledged $75 million toward the institute, if the tax passes.

Speakers also noted that the $20 million in seed money to create a UMKC Downtown Campus for the Arts, pledged by the Murial McBrien Kauffman Foundation, needs at least $50 million more in fundraising, and that is likely to take three years.

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said moving the university music and dance departments next to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts would create an atmosphere like what “Juilliard has next door to Lincoln Center.” It would benefit students and the broader community alike, he said.

Although all of the initiatives were described as having “no expiration date,” planners said the urban neighborhood initiative might have the longest outlook for definitive success.

Mark Jorgenson, president of U.S. Bank in Kansas City, and Brent Stewart, president of the United Way of Greater Kansas City, said the selection of Dianne Cleaver as executive director of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative Inc. was a promising start.

Other targeted redevelopment gains include better partnerships with existing neighborhood associations, allying with Truman Medical Center to back a planned grocery store at 27th and Troost, and holding a recent job fair for local companies to get applications from neighborhood residents. About 1,000 people attended the hiring event.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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