New airport was supposed to create KC jobs. Why has only 3% of work gone to residents?

Two years ago, supporters of a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport said the project would, among other things, provide work for local residents.

“Building this airport will create thousands of new jobs in the area,” promised Better KCI, the primary campaign group.

So far, the key phrase in that pledge appears to be “in the area.” Kansas City residents, it turns out, aren’t very busy at KCI.

City officials told the City Council this summer that subcontractors had provided 22,879 hours of work at KCI between January and July. Of that, just 628 hours went to Kansas City residents.

For those keeping track at home, that’s less than 3% of the labor.

The number frustrated and angered some members of the City Council. If Kansas Citians end up with 3% of the work hours at the terminal, “it would be exceedingly disappointing,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said, “and totally misrepresent what it is we said to the voters.”

On Monday, Kansas City Councilwoman Teresa Loar, chairwoman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the number “totally unacceptable.”

Both are exactly right. Developer Edgemoor and others connected with the project must do more to ensure that Kansas City workers are employed in significant numbers when major terminal construction begins.

How significant? One-fourth of the workforce is a good target. More would be better.

Edgemoor is asking residents to be patient.”It will take five million hours to build the new terminal,” spokeswoman Laurie Roberts said in an email. “We know the number of Kansas City, Missouri, residents working on the project will increase over the life span of the project.”

While Edgemoor made firm commitments for hiring women and minorities on the terminal project, the developer made no promises to hire Kansas City residents. That wasn’t part of the negotiations, the company says, and city ordinances don’t require it.

“We cannot control the communities where our subcontractors house their labor,” Roberts said.

Perhaps not. But Edgemoor can control which companies it hires for work at the terminal, and it should hire firms with a significant Kansas City workforce.

Finding Kansas City residents who are qualified to work on the project could be difficult. Many potential employees lack needed skills and experience, and the construction boom may make it hard to find workers from any locale, not just Kansas City.

That’s why it’s imperative that Edgemoor continue its efforts to train workers for the project. When the terminal is opened, hundreds of Kansas Citians should have new, marketable construction skills — and hefty paychecks — for their work at KCI.

Kansas City residents, who approved the project, should expect nothing less.

“We didn’t say every job (at KCI),” Lucas said. “But we did say it would be a job generator. We sold that to the people of Kansas City, Missouri.”

Voters bought that promise. Now it’s up to City Hall and Edgemoor to deliver.

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