Government & Politics

In Amazon bid, Kansas City turns to top specialists

Richard Florida author of "Who's Your City?". (AP Photo/Basic Books)
Richard Florida author of "Who's Your City?". (AP Photo/Basic Books) AP

Kansas City has the help of Richard Florida and Joel Kotkin, prolific authors in subjects ranging from city planning to attracting and keeping business talent, in an effort to bolster its bid for Amazon’s second headquarters project and its 50,000 jobs.

The Kansas City Area Development Council confirmed that Florida and Kotkin had signed contracts to consult with the region’s economic development leaders ahead of its response to Amazon’s call for interested cities hoping to land what it’s calling the HQ2 project.

Amazon last week announced publicly that it wanted cities to make their pitch for the online retail merchant’s second headquarters building; its current headquarters are in Seattle.

Amazon promises 50,000 jobs a $5 billion investment with HQ2. Were Kansas City to earn Amazon’s blessing for HQ2, Amazon would become Kansas City’s largest employer.

Various pundits and analyses give Kansas City long odds for Amazon (although PC Magazine put Kansas City at the top of its list), but the KCADC thinks Kotkin’s and Florida’s insights can help deliver an edge.

“There’s no better authorities on demography and on talent attraction than Florida and Kotkin,” KCADC president and chief executive Tim Cowden said in an interview with The Star. “They've written profusely about this very subject. If anyone was going to identify two individuals to help them with a proposal of this magnitude we, couldn't think of anyone better than Richard and Joel and their teams.”

Kotkin and Florida were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

Florida is a writer and professor at the University of Toronto. Florida reached national stature with his 2002 book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” that generally encourages cities to welcome educated and artistic professionals back to urban core neighborhoods with amenities and mass transit options.

Florida’s philosophy held that cities that foster environments in urban areas that attract young, creative professionals will lead to the urban regeneration.

His 2017 book, “The New Urban Crisis” explores the effects of the revitalization of urban centers — sharply increasing rents, gentrification and segregation. In some ways, his latest book is an acknowledgment that his theories from “The Rise of the Creative Class” had unintended consequences.

“I think I completely underestimated the speed, pace and velocity of that back-to-the-city movement,” Florida told The Star last year.

Kotkin, a geographer and fellow at Chapman University in California, has written extensively about the dynamics of suburban areas, including “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” He’s generally seen as a proponent for suburbs.

Kotkin’s philosophy is mindful of the effects that urbanism have on middle-class families. That’s why he remains bullish on the suburbs, a place where families can find what they need, even if its lower density.

“You can have this economy that reflects this creative class ethic, but at the same time the class divides become more severe,” Kotkin said in an interview with The Star last year. “The big point for me is the middle class family is becoming extinct.”

Both men were speakers at the KCADC’s 2016 annual meeting.

For Florida’s part, he seems to have given some thought already to Amazon’s prospects; he puts Washington D.C. in the driver’s seat.

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt