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Clay County works to keep adding high-paying jobs

The front of the Northland Innovation Campus.
The front of the Northland Innovation Campus. Courtesy photo

Clay County business leaders are hoping Missouri’s best in science and technology research and education will soon have a home in the Northland.

It’s the next step in an economic development strategy that is helping make Clay County one of the fastest growing counties in the metro area.

The population and economic development of Clay County is growing quickly. In 2015 and 2016, Clay County was biggest new job producer in the Kansas City metro with 3,433 new jobs. Incomes are high and housing costs low. Clay County has a median household income about $10,000 higher than the national average, but housing costs nearly $35,000 lower than the national average.

Those are just a few of the numbers compiled from U.S. Census Bureau information as a gauge for progress on the Clay County Economic Development Council’s four-year-old strategic plan.

The report, by researcher Jeff Pinkerton at MetroInsight, shows Clay County’s population growth over the last 10 years is nearly double that of the Kansas City metro area as a whole. The fastest growing industries over a 20-year period from 1996 to 2016 were manufacturing and health care.

“The industries that Clay County is doing well in are really good areas,” Pinkerton said. “They are high-paying jobs in health care and manufacturing, which is really important because those are growing well in this region.”

Executive Director Jim Hampton of the Clay County Economic Development Council says the strategic plan focuses on entrepreneurship and education. He sees growth trends as very good, but believes the No. 1 challenge for businesses today is the availability of a skilled labor force.

“We’re looking at things like the emerging industries. What they are going to be in the next five to 10 years? And what kinds of skill sets will we need to meet those industries?” Hampton said.

The Clay County Economic Development Council is hoping to meet the educational needs of local industry by fostering a new partnership with Missouri University of Science and Technology, which would bring master and doctoral level programs on site in the Northland. The school currently has a satellite school in the St. Louis area, but none on the Western site of the state.

The plan would be for classroom and support space to be housed in the new Northland Innovation Campus in Gladstone near 69th and North Oak Trafficway. The facility currently houses on-site undergraduate programs that are a satellite of Northwest Missouri State University and graduate programs in education. It also houses the North Kansas City School District SAGE program for elementary and middle-schoolers.

Hampton says the existence of these kinds of local higher education programs are just part of what can keep Clay County a healthy and growing area.

“There’s such a circle there,” Hampton said. “If you have a well-educated workforce, you have companies that give you a good tax base, that allow you to build schools and pay teachers and do all those things you want to do in the community.”

Hampton said the Clay County Economic Development Council is pleased with the results of Pinkerton’s survey. The group’s goal had been to add 50 new companies and 5,000 new jobs since the beginning of their strategic plan. They exceeded those marks.

“Our goal is always to add jobs as long as there is someone out there who wants a job who doesn’t have a job,” Hampton said. “We’re not done. A job is a career. There are just so many good things that happen when people have the kind of jobs they want.”

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