A KC That Attracts Young Professionals

By Joe Sweeney

How can the Kansas City business community align to attract and retain young professionals and further develop its creative class?

Confession time: When we started Ingram’s Industry Outlook series in 1999, I was in my late 30s and barely eligible for
40 Under Forty consideration. OK, a little removed. In the
years since, then, we’ve hosted more than 150 Industry Outlook assemblies with some of the region’s most important leaders in business, government, education and philanthropy.
As a group they include a lot of familiar faces. So after the question of youth leadership was raised at our January General Assembly, someone asked whether young professionals themselves could address issues of great importance to this region from their perspective.
Now, Ingram’s has done just that. Earlier this month, we put to a dozen young successful  professionals the blunt question: “What’s the Matter with Kansas City?”
Refreshingly, they found a lot of positives. But they also seized on a rare opportunity to brainstorm as a group, from across different business sectors. And they began to lay out a framework for a better KC, one that will attract more of their own kind and
keep the city’s work force and leadership ranks fresh and vibrant.
We’ve asked these questions a number of times. This time, perhaps, we asked the more appropriate people.
Among the high points of a discussion that filled 3 hours, they touched on five primary points repetitively that include:
• The State Line and Political Interests. While they recognized as a group that their age cohort is too disengaged from the nuances of politics and public policy, there was a surprising awareness that the region is doing itself no favors with the Border Battle over economic incentives for business. There was also a call to elect more legislators who are sane. Bravo!
• The Nightlife. It was interesting to see this group of people, moving past their early 20s and well into their 30s, express frustration with a young-singles scene that doesn’t quite fit their lifestyles, now that marriage and long-term relationships have set in. Nonetheless, they want a vibrant nightlife and not necessarily one which caters to the twenty-somethings.  
• A Walkable Urban Lifestyle and Logical Transportation/Rail that Connects Assets. If these guys had been planning
a streetcar system, it would have been a Rail Line to Somewhere, rather than a 2.2-mile line without an anchor. To be fair,
they understood the rail must start somewhere, but given the choice, they would prefer it to begin from Downtown to the Plaza.
• A Diversity-Friendly Community. It’s one thing to have diversity as a community. If those diverse groups congregate together and fail to interact, are you diverse? Not in this group’s eyes.
• Pride in What Kansas City Offers. From professional sports to low costs of living, a changing Downtown to creative workplaces that incorporate the interests of Millennials, we have a lot more going for us than we might realize. Here contributors suggested that many Kansas Citians—perhaps most—suffer from an inferiority complex.   
On a secondary plateau, our panel expressed varying levels of concerns:
• Education. They’re new parents, close to becoming new parents, or friends of people who have moved out of the city to safeguard their kindergarten-age children. Young professionals are just as frustrated about the Kansas City School District as the rest of us, and just as hopeful for solutions.
• More Professional Sports. There is a general feeling that we’ve shot ourselves in the foot by committing long-term to the Truman Sports Complex. The next best thing? An NBA or NHL franchise at Sprint Center. Hey, why not? Kansas City used to have both,
and at the same time. We can do it again.
• Suckage Minimization. It generated a few laughs around the table, but when the comment was made “It sucks less here,” the thought was spot-on.
And interestingly enough, young professionals want this city to find an identity—beyond being known and more than a place where the barbecue is great. There must be a corollary—not an imitation—of the South x Southwest event that has made Austin such a destination city for young professionals every year. I’d suggest an annual event—we don’t want to mimic SxSW, but we’ve got great infrastructure to host a Crossroads Festival, and getting people to that in the fall—without fail, our best time of the year—could do more to attract young professionals,
the creative class and young entrepreneurs to KC. Let’s give this some thought.
This could become KC’s largest annual convention of sorts. All roads lead to KC. And Ingram’s (online, social media, print) would be glad to assist and serve as a vehicle to align diverse leadership to pull that off—age, of course, being a diversity parameter. Here’s to a more enlightened future of attracting and retaining young professionals and growing a larger vibrant creative class. 

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher