Five years ago, the name KC Rising was introduced as a marketing effort to publicize that the Kansas City area was primed for growth, partly by attracting companies to move from elsewhere.
Fifteen months ago, KC Rising was reintroduced with the same aim — economic growth — but with a sharper focus on generating economic growth from within.
On Monday afternoon, about 200 people were invited to hear about groundwork laid since then. Scores of committee meetings, focus groups and planning sessions have reaffirmed what organizers suspected from the outset: The region needs to build on its existing strengths.
KC Rising organizers say plans will succeed if concentrated attention vaults the area into the top 10 of its selected peer cities — 30 metro areas chosen because of size or economic similarities to Kansas City — by three measures:
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Gross regional product — a measure of the area’s output of goods and services by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Kansas City area ranks 14th among peer metros and needs a 10 percent jump in its current GNP of $112 billion to reach the top 10.
High-quality jobs — a percentage of jobs that require at least a post-secondary degree or certification or pay at least above the area’s median earnings of $20.61 an hour, or $42,868 a year. The area now ranks 12th among peers, with 47.7 percent of its jobs classified as “quality.”
Median household income — The area now ranks 12th in the peer group, with a median of $56,994, according to the 2015 American Community Survey estimate.
“After ’08, our check-engine light was flashing,” Scott Smith, retired chief executive of HNTB Infrastructure and co-chairman of the KC Rising steering committee, said of the area’s economy. “We needed a fact-based, data-driven approach, a real strategy, not just to compete with our peer cities, but globally.”
Research confirmed that the region’s competitive business and industry strengths lie in two major sectors. One sector includes engineering, architecture, construction and infrastructure. The other sector includes human and animal life sciences, agriculture and analytics at the nexus of those industries.
That’s where the Kansas City Area Development Council, the Mid-America Regional Council, the Kansas City Civic Council and other organizations involved in KC Rising shift from research to implementation. Three specific actions were announced Monday:
▪ Convene members from the area’s engineering, architecture and construction companies to pinpoint their needs and build a structure to fill the pipeline with workforce talent, financing or whatever else will help them grow and be globally competitive.
▪ Introduce a KCRise Fund, a “sidecar fund” to encourage co-investing with institutional venture capital investors in early-stage companies in the Kansas City area. The fund would help investors — individuals, families, foundations and companies — learn about startup investment opportunities and minimize risk by piggybacking on professionally assessed venture capital research and investments.
Darcy Howe, who is directing the fund’s creation, said initial investment commitments of $10 million had been received from four companies and other individuals, and she’s aiming to add a second $10 million. Interested startups and investors may get more information by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
▪ Create “talent-to-industry exchanges,” or TIE groups, to bring together business, labor, education and economic development leaders. TIEs will be charged with developing clear career paths to prepare area residents for local jobs that need better-educated or better-trained workers. The first two TIE meetings scheduled for this year will be in the life science and engineering-architecture sectors.
“We don’t want to duplicate what others are doing,” said Jewel Scott, executive director of the Civic Council and a co-planner. “We need to find better ways to communicate, collaborate and tie together the civic structures we have.”
Smith said KC Rising planners feared writing “just another report that would gather dust on shelves.” And they didn’t want to create one more civic group. Rather, he said, KC Rising will push interaction among “the economic drivers of our regional, our globally competitive sectors” and “help build a workforce capable of doing the jobs of the future.”