As chamber’s leader, Joe Reardon can spark new conversations

Joe Reardon will take over the top job at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 2016.
Joe Reardon will take over the top job at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 2016. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s next leader will bring intriguing expertise in technology, transportation, neighborhoods and politics to the helm of the region’s most influential civic group.

Joe Reardon, former mayor in Wyandotte County and current CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, will take over in early 2016 as the chamber’s new president and chief executive.

His background seems well-suited for the chamber’s missions, which include promotion of the Big 5 initiatives and support for important economic growth opportunities, including a stronger downtown and enhancement of civic assets such as Kansas City International Airport and the forthcoming streetcar system.

Reardon will bring to the job a deservedly solid reputation as a doer, a change agent and a big-picture visionary.

His leadership as mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., for eight years helped the county attract Google Fiber, the Sporting Park soccer stadium and a significant expansion of Cerner Corp.

For about a year Reardon has led the ATA, which has made progress in solidifying its central role for bus service throughout the metro area.

As a bright young leader, Reardon will be the public face of a business-oriented organization that could thrive even more on collaboration, goal-setting and meaningful contributions to the entire community.

Reardon will succeed Jim Heeter, who announced earlier this year that he would retire on Dec. 31. Heeter, however, agreed to continue in the top chamber job until Reardon is able to take over, possibly as late as March.

The chamber’s Big 5 initiatives include building the workforce for tomorrow and promoting kindergarten readiness; revitalizing the East Side through the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, which is to include a new charter school; turning Kansas City into America’s most entrepreneurial city; boosting the area’s medical research efforts; and creating a downtown campus for the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Last April the chamber and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City launched Healthy KC, promoting better nutrition and work life balance, more physical activity and raising the age from 18 to 21 for tobacco and e-cigarette purchases.

The business group has publicly supported the downtown streetcar, construction of a convention hotel and the building of a new airport.

Just this week, Heeter and the chamber made a strong endorsement of City Manager Troy Schulte, whose contract is up for renewal, and it surely will be involved as a campaign gets underway to renew the city’s earnings tax in an April election.

With his Kansas experience, Reardon could bring special insight into the challenge of ending the zero-sum economic, tax-incentive border war, in which cities on both sides of the state line try to lure businesses to jump one way or the other.

The one downside of Reardon’s new job is he will leave his post at the ATA, which has benefited from his energy and vision. Board Chair Robbie Makinen will succeed him as interim president and CEO. Fortunately, Makinen was a key partner with Reardon and can be expected to continue the progress.