Throughout its history, Kansas City has been known for many things, including being a birthplace of jazz and the Negro Leagues, home to the country’s best barbecue, a generous philanthropic spirit, world-class arts and culture and the 2014 American League Champion Royals.
Now we have received more well-deserved international recognition.The Global Entrepreneurship Network has named Kansas City one of the world’s top five emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems. A Kansas City delegation led by Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo is at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Milan, Italy, to share Kansas City’s story with delegates from more than 140 countries.
Those of us lucky enough to live here know our region has long been synonymous with entrepreneurship. The very first Global Entrepreneurship Congress was organized and hosted by the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City in 2009.
Kansas City is a fitting birthplace for what has become an international movement. Few cities in America can boast the names of the founders of incredibly successful companies — names like Bloch, Hall, Stowers and Kauffman — but here in Kansas City, we can.
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Yet, these successes are always hard fought, and we must continue to develop the local environment for the next generation of entrepreneurs. Last month, Wendy Guillies, acting President and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, was joined in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to provide an update on the state of entrepreneurship.
It wasn’t all good news. Nationally, there are mixed signals. Venture investments are at record levels, while the overall numbers for business creation are down. However, the entrepreneurial potential represented by our nation’s two largest demographic groups — baby boomers and millennials — offers great hope for the future.
Kansas City is working to address challenges and take advantage of opportunities. For example, the city is making long-overdue reforms to better support start-up and existing businesses. The Kauffman Foundation’s internationally recognized expertise is being utilized throughout the region. And our community boasts a network of regional assets supporting our entrepreneurial spirit, including KCSourcelink, LaunchKC, the Chamber’s Big 5 initiative, Google Fiber, Startup Village, Think Big Partners, the Sprint Accelerator and UMKC.
We are seeing tangible results from this collective effort. Just last week, I joined President Obama in Washington when he announced that Kansas City is a pilot city in a new program called TechHire, which will train chronically unemployed local workers for 21st century jobs. In addition to the dreams, drive and dedication of entrepreneurs, successful companies also need skilled workers to grow and thrive.
We sometimes take for granted that companies such as Cerner started with an idea on a park bench, and that the company now plans to create 15,000 jobs over the next 10 years on the former Bannister Mall site. That one idea affects tens of thousands of our residents.
Entrepreneurship has defined Kansas City’s past, and it is critical to our future. Kansas City entrepreneurism isn’t just about honors like we’re receiving in Milan this week. It’s about starting and growing companies that create more jobs in Kansas City. Let’s do more than just celebrate. Let’s get to work.
Sly James is the mayor of Kansas City.