For the past eight weeks, the Kansas City region’s business and civic communities have rallied around an effort to share the important reasons why our market needs a new, single terminal at Kansas City International Airport. At the foundation of this case: A better KCI is crucial for a better KC region.
The Kansas City Area Development Council is in the business of attracting new companies and talented people to the region. Our clients are looking for reasons to eliminate our market from consideration. We compete every day with Austin, Nashville, Indianapolis, Denver, Dallas and many other cities around the globe — cities all doing everything they can to avoid being eliminated as well.
So how does Kansas City compete? Very well in nearly every case, with one exception. Here’s why:
Our airport is a huge economic driver for new business and jobs in our region. Companies make location decisions partly based on the ability to access other major markets where they do business. For companies that have a lot of executives who need to fly often, KCI does not meet their needs. So they choose to locate elsewhere, taking critical employment and investment opportunities with them. In the last couple of years, companies have chosen to move corporate headquarters to Atlanta, Chicago and other markets for better access and flight options.
Companies in our region fly job candidates to Kansas City for interviews and bring in customers for meetings or events. We have heard countless accounts from these important visitors that it is difficult to find transportation, that baggage claim is unreliable and that restaurants and retail stores are often shuttered by early evening. Job candidates have booked a flight out of Kansas City almost as soon as they have arrived because of a poor first impression at KCI. Business travelers with clients in the area lament the necessary travel through KCI. This is not the kind of impression we want to make as a global business destination, and it doesn’t match the incredible talent or innovative companies that fuel our region’s economy.
Better air service means more direct flights to more destinations, including international markets. While a single terminal isn’t required for the airlines to increase service through KCI, all we have to do is look at other markets that have modernized their airport terminals to see the potential. Flights currently connecting in St. Louis could connect in Kansas City for less cost per passenger, but if the airlines serving KCI don’t feel they can give customers the experience they expect, they will connect those flights elsewhere, even if it costs the airlines more to do so.
We live in a major league city, but our airport isn’t keeping up. Aging infrastructure, deferred maintenance, an outdated layout, lack of amenities for connecting passengers, curbside congestion and an inefficient security system all contribute to the challenges with our current terminals. Our region has made major commitments to improving our urban areas, our streets and sidewalks, our sports stadiums and arts venues. KCI is the one venue that is open 365 days a year, nearly 24/7, and it’s often the first and last impression on our visitors.
Our region has so much to be proud of and to celebrate. We top a long list of rankings as the best place to live, travel to and start a business. We are attracting corporate investment and top job candidates. But we can be even better. We can compete for more jobs, attract and retain the most talented people and continue to be a top destination for business and travel. Better air service starts with a modern, more convenient single terminal. Visit betterkci.org to see how you can support the effort to build a better KCI — and a better Kansas City region.
Tim Cowden is president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council.