Sorry, Russ Welsh: Wooing new businesses is good for the Kansas City region

The Kansas City region will grow faster by attracting companies from other cities.
The Kansas City region will grow faster by attracting companies from other cities. The Kansas City Star

Getting people and businesses to move to the Kansas City area can be tough. We know the drill by now: no sandy beaches, no mountains, plenty of weather extremes throughout the year.

Indeed, as The Star has documented, the region on both sides of the state line has trailed too many of its competitors in job creation over the last decade— before and after the Great Recession.

Yet boosters properly point out the metro area’s better sides. They include skilled workforces in certain industries, a reasonable cost of living, plenty of cultural and sports amenities, and even the lure of enjoying all four seasons every year.

Attracting new companies and employers to Kansas City is almost always a positive thing. Most business leaders ascribe to this mantra because they want to see the region succeed.

But in recent days, a few lawyers in town have grown concerned that bringing in competitors could bleed them of employees and create higher payrolls.

Russ Welsh, chairman and CEO of Polsinelli, recently expressed his ire with the Kansas City Area Development Council for helping to recruit 375 administrative jobs from two West Coast-based law firms to Crown Center. Welsh’s basic concern: The city could lose some jobs if it becomes too expensive for his law firm and others to keep certain operations in Kansas City.

While a few other legal leaders expressed their concerns, common-sense pushback also emerged.

John Murphy, chairman of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, put it best when he said that the alternative to attracting new businesses “is almost guaranteeing a stagnating economy.”

The fear of igniting competition for existing businesses could make it almost impossible to woo new companies to the region. When Google Fiber entered this market, to take just one example, it certainly irritated the players that were already here. But it also created competition that has led everyone to try to offer faster Internet speeds and better deals for customers, now including the cable TV market.

Many Kansas City-based companies strive to hire the best employees they can. This competitive environment feeds off itself, creating more talented workforces that, in turn, demands better-educated workers to fill new jobs.

One good way to make this region a hub for key economic drivers, such as life sciences and information technology, is to invest in better-educated workforces. That includes ensuring nearby colleges and universities produce graduates who can fill the jobs of the future.

Trying to shut the door on competitors coming to the Kansas City area is at odds with what needs to happen: Create a better image as a welcome home for new residents and businesses.