Here’s the depressing news I confirmed earlier this week as local civic leaders and politicians pumped up KC Rising, their new effort to increase jobs and household incomes in the Kansas City area.
This region cannot secede from Missouri and Kansas.
It cannot cut itself loose from the Show-Me State, where lawmakers constantly want to meddle in the future of Kansas City’s earnings tax plus shut down the city’s minimum wage and gun control laws.
This area cannot cannot leave the Sunflower State, where Gov. Sam Brownback’s reckless tax cuts are threatening Johnson County’s prized schools and legislators are burdening local cities and counties with unwise property tax lids.
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That brings us back to KC Rising.
This is the kind of feel-good civic venture that could — hold your breath — be extremely valuable in reaching positive goals to dramatically boost employment, create more high-paying jobs and generally propel the area into a far more prosperous future.
KC Rising could help provide the fuel to propel the region past some of its more middling peers and into the status of being considered a national player as Seattle, Austin, Denver and Charlotte are right now.
Put in simple terms, KC Rising is an attempt to find ways that current businesses can collaborate to generate more local economic growth, while they also work with universities to improve the caliber of the local workforce.
In the last few years I have written several columns criticizing Kansas City area business leaders and their lack of a cohesive plan to grow population and jobs. Today, KC Rising deserves praise for the work done so far and for its potential.
Are there hurdles ahead? Sure, let’s count some of them.
▪ The Kansas and Missouri legislatures are full of lawmakers who label themselves “pro-business” even as they pass destructive laws that damage public education and reduce public services while doing little to prod more investment by corporations in the states.
Civic leaders have gotten involved when needed in recent months. So far they have helped derail the General Assembly’s misguided attack on the earnings tax.
But MARC Executive Director David Warm says KC Rising must have a “coherent approach” to job and income growth before looking for any specific help from lawmakers in Topeka and Jefferson City.
▪ This area has some quality-of-life shortcomings.
“We compete with the water and the mountains a lot,” David Bower, a top Populous executive and former Raytown mayor, pointed out in an interview.
▪ The Kansas City region lacks a top-tier university, and the ones close to us aren’t producing enough graduates in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
Civic leaders need to convince the major universities of Kansas and Missouri, in particular, to find ways to turn out a lot more STEM grads.
▪ Local urban schools must improve the quality of education for the large number of youngsters who will not go to college but can work in high-paying vocational jobs.
KC Rising has a good chance of succeeding if business leaders from large and small companies expand the services they provide, increase the goods they create and find other ways to make it necessary to hire more skilled employees in the future.
Austin’s corporate community has had a lot of success in those ventures in recent years. So have Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego and other regions that are ahead of this metro area in median household income and high-quality jobs.
The Kansas City region needs to leap into that upper tier, too. Keep a close eye on KC Rising to see if it helps do that.