Kansas City’s core missed recovery, another study says

A glass bridge connects two buildings in downtown Kansas City.
A glass bridge connects two buildings in downtown Kansas City. The Kansas City Star

People and jobs started moving back into central cities as the country emerged from the recession, though Kansas City’s urban core and suburbs weren’t part of that trend, according to data compiled by the research organization City Observatory.

The study released this week, “Surging City Center Job Growth,” used figures through 2011, so it’s possible recent efforts are bolstering Kansas City’s core.

“I was a little surprised … until I saw the data stopped in 2011,” said Jeff Pinkerton, senior researcher for the Mid-America Regional Council. “It really has been this last year when things have picked up downtown.”

In recent months Kansas City has announced several new or expanded businesses, including the Nerdery, Sungevity and back office operations for two West Coast law firms, along with some government jobs moving downtown.

The study looked at 41 of the 51 largest metro areas, excluding ones for which comparable breakdowns weren’t available back to 2002. Overall for 2002-2007, the annual job growth rate in those city centers was just 0.1 percent versus 1.2 percent in outlying areas. But for 2007-2011, the study found, that shifted to 0.5 percent growth for city centers and a negative 0.1 percent for outlying areas.

“Over the past few years, urban populations in America’s cities have grown faster than outlying areas, and our research shows that jobs are coming with them,” the study’s authors wrote. The cities with the best annual job growth rates for their urban cores — defined as within a 3-mile radius of a city’s center — were Austin, Texas, at 3.4 percent and Charlotte, N.C., at 2.5 percent

That wasn’t the case in many cities, though, including Kansas City. Its core jobs shrank at an annual 3.2 percent rate for 2007-2011, the study said, the third worst of the cities studied, after Las Vegas at -5.1 percent and Jacksonville, Fla., at -3.8 percent.

Those numbers echoed some other recent studies, such as a Brookings Institution analysis that found Kansas City’s core lost 19.6 percent of its private jobs from 2001 to 2011 and “Prosperity at a Crossroads,” an assessment last year that found the metro area’s recovery trailing its peers.

That report, drawn up by the Mid-America Regional Council, the UMKC Center for Economic Information and Brookings, spurred business and civic leaders to increase efforts to help the area economy grow. Those include growth goals in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s “Big 5” initiatives and the founding in November of KC Rising by MARC, the Kansas City Economic Development Council and the Civic Council.

Those efforts aren’t specifically aimed at boosting the urban core but could have that effect.

“Downtown is on the upswing” for office space occupancy and especially residential growth, Pinkerton said, and jobs tend to follow population.

“We’ll have to wait till we get more recent data” to see how much the core is growing, he said.

To reach Greg Hack, call 816-234-4439 or send email to