Terry Dunn has ambitious plans as new KC Chamber chairman

The Kansas City Star

Terry Dunn, new chairman of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, plans for you to hear the word “entrepreneurship” even more in the coming year.

He’s going to be talking about it a lot, and he expects you’ll hear it a lot more from other business and government leaders who’ll spend time and money to buff the metro area’s reputation as a good place — even a great place — to start and grow a business.

Among the true believers, Dunn looks to Cerner co-founder Cliff Illig, who is spearheading creation of a nonprofit organization dubbed EnterpriseKC. It’s an effort that intends to research the status and needs of the area’s existing entrepreneurs to help shape an inviting environment for others.

Dunn also looks to former mayor Joe Reardon of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. Reardon will chair what Dunn calls a “safe harbor” group meeting under the auspices of Rockhurst University, designed to bring the area’s elected officials together for private, thoughtful discussions of regional issues.

He also looks to some of the area’s home-grown wealth to come together to provide growth capital to young businesses.

“This community has a tremendous amount of wealth, a lot of it within families,” Dunn said. “But it’s not at a focused level of investment yet.”

He even suggested some of the names he had in mind to pool “educated capital interests in the entrepreneurship sector,” citing the Bicknell family, owner of Mariner Holdings, Mariner Wealth Advisors, Flyover Capital and other firms; Peter Mallouk, founder of Creative Planning Inc.; John Sherman, Inergy LP founder who sold the company’s propane business, and Paul DeBruce, who sold DeBruce Cos.

They, like Illig, he said, could provide powerful resources to Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community. All could help push forward the precedence that Dunn clearly gives to the entrepreneurship goal of the chamber’s Big 5 priorities — to make Kansas City “America’s most entrepreneurial city.”

Dunn tonight will outline his chamber goals to about 1,900 guests at the chamber’s annual dinner. He wants to convey a will to unite what he calls the area’s “silos of progress.”

It’s a daunting challenge. Earlier this month a similar move to understand the Kansas City area’s economy and create a strong environment for business creation was launched by the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City along with the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Mid-America Regional Council.

That effort, called KC Rising, has a long-term strategy to understand the area’s key growth industries, attract and retain talent in well-paying jobs, and, in accord with Dunn’s priority, to encourage the entrepreneurial environment.

There’s no easy roadmap to avoid duplication of effort or proprietary feelings. But Dunn intends to try. He started on that voyage earlier this year with a real trip — leading a chamber contingent to Silicon Valley in California — to get ideas from the epicenter of new-business development.

Long-standing influence

Regarded for years as one of the most influential business leaders in the Kansas City area, Dunn is retiring at the end of this year as president and chief executive of JE Dunn Construction Group Inc. He said retirement would give him more time to focus on the chamber’s top volunteer position — which he’s taken for the second time.

“I’ll have more time to take the baton and run with it before I pass it on,” Dunn said. “I’m fortunate to be doing this at an extremely exciting time for Kansas City. … My job is to develop a clarity of message, to help design how we as a community collaborate toward this entrepreneurship goal.”

Dunn also noted, though, that he won’t be a full-time civic volunteer. He’s also launching a private investments venture, DD Ranch Leawood, along with KPMG executive Jeff Dobbs. (Dobbs, by the way, is married to Roshann Parris, the chamber’s immediate past chairwoman, whom Dunn has succeeded.)

In essence, Dunn expects to put money where his mouth is, to help provide growth capital for young businesses of a certain age and size. Turning successful startups to sustainable success stories is the key to push forward the Kansas City area economy, he believes.

A repeat stint as chamber chairman (Dunn’s first was in 2003) is a rarity in the chamber’s 125-year history. The only other person to do it was Conrad Mann in the 1920s and 1930s. But if any Kansas Citian was primed for a repeat it’s Dunn, who comes from a family enmeshed in charitable and civic service.

His father, Bill Dunn, served as chamber chairman in 1977-78. And Terry Dunn and his wife, Peggy Dunn, mayor of Leawood since 1997, also had agreed to head Kansas City’s fundraising effort to attract the 2016 Republican National Convention.

In a wide-ranging interview Dunn emphasized his overarching entrepreneurship goal. To that end, he has appointed Wendy Guillies, acting chief executive of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, to the chamber’s board and executive committee.

“We want Kauffman at our table,” he said. “We need to understand their plans. We don’t want to be guilty of developing silos.”

The Kauffman Foundation has a global reputation for its research and funding of entrepreneurship and education, two disciplines pinpointed by its founder as the means toward economic self-sufficiency.

Dunn also said the area especially needs to do more listening to younger people who are starting businesses or participating in civic affairs through GenKC, LiveKC and other groups that attract people who haven’t yet reached the top business echelon.

“It takes a lot of listening,” he said. “This community needs to do more listening. We may not necessarily agree, but we need to listen, and the young, especially, need to talk.”

He pointed out Matt Condon, a past small-business award winner from the chamber, as a young entrepreneur who’s become enmeshed in civic affairs and is in line to be the chamber’s chairman in a few years. Condon also is the chamber’s new leader of its Big 5 initiative to improve the area’s entrepreneurship status, taking over from UMB Bank president Peter deSilva.

Dunn also expects big things from Terry Bassham, KCP&L president, who’s in line to be chamber chairman next year and who has already taken over leadership of the chamber’s Big 5 neighborhood initiative to add better housing and job opportunities in a specific Kansas City neighborhood, known as the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.

The Big 5 effort, conceived a few years ago by then-chamber chairman Greg Graves, CEO of Burns & McDonnell, has maintained four of its original five goals since inception. Also continuing is work to create a downtown performing arts campus at 17th Street and Broadway for the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

An original goal, to be known as a global center of animal health activity, was declared met. It was replaced this year by a focus on early childhood education and school readiness.

Dunn said this year will include consideration of the remaining original Big 5 goal — gaining National Cancer Center designation and boosting the area as a center for clinical and translational medical research, which aims to turn clinical breakthroughs into products on the market.

“Does that have legs as a Big 5? We’ll figure out if that’s an area we need to support going forward,” Dunn said. “There’s already a lot going on in that area.”

Outside the existing Big 5 priorities, Dunn said he intended to encourage continuing efforts to unite the metropolitan area’s public transportation systems into a unified model that makes it simpler for workers to get to their jobs from wherever they live.

He’s also interested in encouraging more investment in UMKC’s computer education programs. And he wants businesses to ramp up support of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education at all schools.

“There’s a lot to do,” Dunn said. “We’re not growing as fast as Omaha or Des Moines. We don’t have the oil wealth of Oklahoma City. But we do have old-fashioned Midwest passion and commitment. We just need to get all the passionate parties talking.”

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to

On tap tonight

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce expects 1,900 to attend its annual dinner tonight at the Kansas City Convention Center.

The theme is entrepreneurship, and Daymond John, founder of the FUBU clothing company and a TV star from “Shark Tank,” is the featured speaker.

Also on the podium will be chamber chief executive Jim Heeter; its current chairman, Terry Dunn of JE Dunn Construction Group; its immediate past chairwoman, Roshann Parris of Parris Communications; and dinner co-chairs Karen Daniel of Black & Veatch and Matt Condon of ARC Physical Therapy +/Bardavon Health Innovation. Daniel and Condon are in line after Terry Bassham of KCP&L to become chamber chairs.

The event will end with announcement of the 2014 Kansas Citian of the Year, the chamber’s highest recognition for civic service.