Innovate to make Kansas City a startup hub

03/28/2014 2:33 PM

04/05/2014 6:20 PM

Entrepreneurs and high-tech professionals, Kansas City wants you!

Except, ahem, we forgot to make a city you might like. The Brookings Institute calls us “significantly lagging” behind peers and smaller-sized metros in entrepreneurism.

How can we change? Cities need new jobs. The Kauffman Foundation says new job creation depends largely on high-tech startups.

Tech-savvy entrepreneurs look for venture capital and angel investors, innovative networks, and places where young hipsters hang out. However, millennials are leaving the car-habit behind in droves.

Only half of today’s teens even get a driver’s license. To save money and for convenience, 20-somethings connect via smartphones.

Plus, they use public transportation, share cars, walk or bike. Yet Kansas City favors cars and remains the only top 30 American city without rail transit.

Functional walking and biking are ignored or worse, dangerous, and public transportation turns a 20-minute drive into a two-hour commute.

Even today, we cannot cooperate on extending streetcar lines. That’s only half the story.

High-tech startups flourish in places with feeder universities, engineering talent and Department of Defense contracts. That’s where we have some advantages.

Joel Kotkin, urban strategist, flags Kansas City as a top 10 city for new professional and technical services jobs. To cultivate a high-tech ecosystem, Kansas City needs specific strategies.

Rather than fight the highway system, use what is already built for innovation and concentrate investments. As Google’s test laboratory, let’s be a trial spot for driverless cars and automated car trains.

Add mobility-on-demand via shared cars and bike networks. Connect bike and walking pathways to daily functions instead of primarily recreation.

Shape diverse landscapes where non-car dependent options rule. Adding millennials and younger generations, plus boomers who will stop driving, nearly 100 million adult Americans may be car-free 20 years from now.

What if instead of mimicking what cars already do, we rethink transportation? Bring working, living and playing into consolidated lifestyles that support young entrepreneurs and older non-drivers.

Several areas could cultivate high-tech startup ecosystems.

For instance, the 119th Street Corridor of Sprint, Black & Veatch and University of Kansas Edwards campus currently have key elements , but walking or biking would be treacherous and downright unpleasant.

The four-mile Bannister Road corridor from Burns & McDonnell and Ward Parkway Center to the massive Cerner complex at Interstate 435 could reclaim the former Bannister Federal Complex for mixed-use, high-tech development.

The Legends District has high-tech business and engineering talent. But walking or biking is abysmal. Try Google driverless cars, personal rapid transit or low tech small transport like electric carts.

To capitalize, we need to innovate and cooperate. Let’s convene people who could make these places happen.

Don’t let Kansas City die by backward-looking solutions. Instead let’s thrive because we had vision and the capacity to collectively collaborate.


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