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Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 10.52.17 AMWho’s doing business—in a big way—in Kansas City? 

Lots of companies, some of whom are shaking up their sectors and polishing this region’s reputation as a place to start, build and expand a business, in many cases, globally.

They’re doing it with a combination of innovation, vision, Midwestern work ethic, and a unique value proposition in the cost of living. 

Start with the innovation piece. Less than a decade ago, Bats Global Markets fired up its stock-trading algorithms and quickly became the fastest-growing company in Kansas City. Not only that, it has overtaken the NASDAQ as the world’s second-largest equities trading platform, and is No. 1 in that sector in Europe.

Another home-grown company that leveraged the power of technology not just to change a market, but make a new one, is Cerner Corp. Founded in 1979, it’s on track to become the biggest private-sector employer in the Kansas City region by 2025 with its suite of software for the health-care sector, plus other tech products in population health-management.

Both of those companies have demonstrated the kind of tech innovation that others are now seeking in Kansas City, looking to become the next Bats, Cerner or, perhaps, the next Garmin. The Olathe-based company, founded by Min Kao and Gary Burrell, pushed GPS technology into the public realm with devices for driving directions on demand. The company has since expanded into product lines not just for automobiles, but aviation, marine, outdoor, and personal fitness products.

Even venerable H&R Block is in on the innovation game, using technology to rebuild its brand in the digital age. Still the biggest name in tax preparation, the company has been headquartered in Kansas City since its founding in 1955.

On-line usage is also leading to profound change at Hallmark Cards, perhaps the world’s best-known name in personal expressions. Founded more than a century ago in Kansas City by young J.C. Hall, it has a formidable footprint in the paper-products world, as well, with its greeting cards, gift wrap, party products, memory-keeping, ornaments, stationery and more.

Neither can we overlook Lockton Companies, founded in 1966 as a one-man operation, but now the world’s largest privately owned independent  insurance brokerage, offering insurance, risk management and employee benefits products.

Here’s how innovation changed a company at the model: When it was founded in 1969, DST Industries was a division of Kansas City Southern, the transportation and logistics company that’s also based here. After splitting up, DST focused on its software development mission to assist clients in asset management, insurance,
brokerage, retirement planning, health care and other sectors.

This region has a reputation not just for engineering excellence, but for boasting global leaders in that field. Now, remarkable growth at Burns & McDonnell has it nearly on par with Black & Veatch, contending for biggest-engineering firm honors in this region, and a third key name, HNTB, is in that space, as well.

As for those who have expanded operations here and struck production gold, there is the auto sector, with both Ford and GM holding down large shares of the manufacturing sector with their assembly plants in this region.

Since becoming the region’s leading employer a decade ago, Sprint Corp. has certainly hit some rough patches, but don’t be fooled—the company remains a formidable force in the U.S. telecom sector, and still employs roughly 6,000 on its Overland Park campus.

And it’s worth noting that no other U.S. city ships greater tonnage of goods by rail than Kansas City, and Texas-based BNSF is one reason why. It further cemented its ties to this region by partnering in the development of Logistics Park Kansas City, which has spawned construction of monstrous warehouses and distribution facilities in the region, based largely on its connection to a rail line that leads to coastal ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles.