Cerner Corp. — and taxpayers — are investing a lot of money in the company’s huge, ambitious expansion in south Kansas City.
As the fast-growing health care information technology company builds out its $4.45 billion Trails Campus, City Hall in the years ahead must ensure that Cerner properly uses the $1.75 billion in public subsidies the project could enjoy.
Yes, that’s billion with a “b,” easily the largest amount of incentives ever awarded to a private company in Kansas City. City officials will have to watch that nearby road-related improvements are made, and that Cerner provides first-class landscaping upgrades and adequate amounts of parking. Cerner also has pledged to include some shops, restaurants and a hotel in the project.
The payoffs from a successful Cerner expansion could tremendously benefit Kansas City and the entire region.
If Cerner actually brings in 16,000 new jobs, the Trails Campus could help revive a large part of the city while attracting more companies and jobs nearby. For instance, Oxford on the Blue, a long-planned biotech office park, could be built west of Interstate 435 and north of Bannister Road.
Cerner’s big campus also could help transform languishing neighborhoods into thriving ones as the firm’s many new employees buy homes closer to their workplace.
Groundbreaking for the project is scheduled Wednesday afternoon. Politicians including Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Kansas City Mayor Sly James and others are expected to praise the company for taking on the challenge of reusing the old Bannister Mall site. The mall was torn down about five years ago, creating a swath of blight in a heavily traveled part of the city.
Construction of the campus could take a decade. City and company officials hope the first several thousand jobs will be filled in early 2017.
However, as we’ve seen with Sprint, it can be risky to expect everything to go as scheduled, especially in fast-changing businesses tied to technological advances. Cerner faces tough competition and could be affected if Congress alters the rules around the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and/or Medicare. All of this could throw curves at everyone involved in the health care industry.
At this point, optimism deservedly is high that this hometown company is on the cusp of doing something big to create a better future for itself — and for the Kansas City area.