Inside this month’s edition, you’ll find an intriguing—and uplifting—report on the changing nature of Kansas City’s ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation, especially within the technology sector.
It’s a measure of how, and how much, the regional economy is changing around us, often in incremental ways that are nearly imperceptible as we go about the day to day business of … well, business. And it’s uplifting because it speaks to a growth dynamic that not enough of us have been able to celebrate since the dark clouds of the Great Recession first began to gather a decade ago.
As I got to thinking about the opportunities those trend lines present for the city, it occurred to me that plenty of other good things are afoot. Let’s consider a few:
• As I write this, basketballs are thumping on the hardwood court and the outdoor courts at Sprint Center, in the midst of March Madness and the possibility of KU repeating as the 2016 NCAA National Champion. K-State and Mizzou won’t be dancing, but a lot of us who didn’t go to KU still take pride in being part of a region where the nation’s best college basketball team resides.
• For the first time in 30 years, Kansas City enters a professional baseball season as the defending World Champions. There’s more energy and momentum around the Royals today, in my opinion, than this city has ever seen before.
• Before long, the Chiefs will return to preseason camp, and it looks as though they’ll be bringing back the main elements of a defense that could be outstanding, while picking up more talent to make the offense even more productive.
• But enough about sports. The local business front is bursting with growth. Take the 10-year plan for a growing Cerner Corp. that will be a showcase of tech capability for the world to see when its $4.4 billion south Kansas City complex is built out—and make this region a magnet for tech talent.
• Try counting the cranes around the region, where billions of dollars in capital—a large part of it flowing from private enterprise—are at work creating the facilities that will house tens of thousands of jobs and that will yield tens of millions in revenues from the sale of goods and services.
• Among the transformations are projects that will turn unused office space in Downtown Kansas City into badly needed residential units, effectively killing two civic birds with one stone by bolstering the commercial core’s population and reducing an excess of obsolescent office constructs.
• The region is poised to become a global center of animal health research by 2020, when the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility opens in Manhattan, Kan. The prospect for business spin-offs from research there should be unprecedented.
• And, while we have to admit up front that we weren’t fans of the Downtown streetcar system or the voting mechanism that brought it to life, we’re crossing our fingers that it will stimulate redevelopment and add a new vibrancy to Downtown’s appeal—especially with younger workers.
• Speaking of which, the last Millennials are closing in on the end of their K-12 education and looking ahead to college. By 2022 or so, that full cohort of roughly 78 million will be of working age, and most of the Baby Boomers will have retired. It’s the most profound demographic change in makeup of the U.S. work force since the Boomer wave started to pick up paychecks in the early 1960s. Just think about the opportunities that trend presents for executives managing multigenerational work forces, and companies that can serve their needs.
• And here at Ingram’s we move forward with the launch of a transformational digital presence including the Destination series of publications and Web sites (see page 66), which we’re confident will change the paradigm for the reporting of business news and business data in the two-state region.
Are any one of these on the scale of what this region achieved in 1972 and 1973, when KCI, Truman Sports Complex, Bartle Hall and Worlds of Fun opened? Beyond Cerner, perhaps not. But those mega-deals I recall from my youth were big-ticket developments, far different from what I sense are more granular things going on today, but in greater numbers. I was too young in the early 70s to fully comprehend the dynamics of what was happening in KC at that time. I can only hope that the transformations we’re witnessing today prove as enduring and as meaningful.
Some projects represent mega trends, some look at business growth at a more micro level, but all represent positive changes that bode well for where Kansas City is today, and where it’s going. In recent years, executives we cover in high-growth industries have produced a saying that’s become one of my favorites: “We chose not to participate in the downturn.” Here’s to a more widespread embrace of that view, to the change all around us, and to a more productive year that matches the optimism generated by an early spring.