Leo Morton, chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, on Tuesday night received the Kansas Citian of the Year award from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
“Leo is the epitome of civic and community leadership, and everything he does is done with grace and style,” said Jim Heeter, the chamber’s president and chief executive. “He has been personally involved in each of our Big 5 initiatives.”
The award is given annually to a person whose “civic contributions and achievements have reflected the insight, creativity and consciousness necessary to build and maintain” a high-quality urban community.
In addition to chamber activities, Morton is involved in Prep-KC, a youth education effort; the Kansas City Area Development Council; the Kansas City Economic Development Corp.; the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City; and Kansas City Business Leaders for Education.
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He also serves on the boards of Kansas City-based MRIGlobal, Union Station, Truman Medical Center and Starlight Theatre.
Before assuming the top job on the UMKC campus in 2008, Morton had been a UMKC trustee since 2000. Before that, his four-decade career in private industry included positions at Aquila, AT&T Microelectronics, Bell Laboratories, General Motors, Rust Engineering and Corning Glass.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University and a master’s degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Heeter said the city owed Morton gratitude for his leadership in working toward a new UMKC downtown arts campus next to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Morton’s award is a sculpture by Tom Corbin. The chamber each year commissions a local artist to make an original award.
About 1,900 people attended the event in the Kansas City Convention Center’s ballroom, traditionally held the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The chamber announced that next year the dinner will be switched to the Thursday a week before Thanksgiving.
Heeter welcomed guests and recapped several “best of” lists that Kansas City landed on this year.
“Those national rankings show that the rest of the country is starting to get it,” Heeter said. But he also noted that Kansas City was growing more slowly than some of its regional competitor cities and “we cannot be complacent.”
Immediate past chairwoman Roshann Parris of Parris Communications, spoke about the chamber’s newest Big 5 goal to improve kindergarten readiness for all area children. The chamber in 2011 began a process to focus on five priorities for area improvement; the education focus this year replaced an earlier goal that was declared met.
In keeping with the dinner’s theme of entrepreneurism, Parris also mentioned formation of Enterprise KC, a new entity led by Cerner co-founder Cliff Illig, designed to “nourish” entrepreneurial ventures.
This year’s chairman, Terry Dunn of JE Dunn Construction Group, zeroed in on the chamber’s Big 5 goal to encourage entrepreneurship in the metro area. He thanked past and current chamber leaders, tallied multiple entrepreneurship programs in progress or planned, and emphasized the goal for Kansas City to become America’s “most entrepreneurial city.”
The featured speaker was Daymond John, founder of the FUBU clothing company and a panel member on the entrepreneurship TV show “Shark Tank.” He said entrepreneurs would do well to surround themselves with like-minded people and to invest in people, not companies.