Finally, the Winds of Hiring Are Shifting in Kansas City

By Clyde McQueen

Strong employment undercurrents bode well for the region’s employment and economic aspects—a “bottom’s-up” prediction.

The Greater Kansas City region has strong undercurrents swirling that will provide strong employment and economic activity for the region, at a minimum for the remainder of 2013, and at least 2014, as well.  

This assertion is primarily based on the certainty of announced business and employment expansions that will retain and expand the employment and economic base for the region.  

In addition, both public and private sector managers are exploring out-of-the-box approaches that will enable good-paying careers, business opportunities, and community growth, propelling our region to the top of the leadership ranks of the 21st century business, leadership, education, and skilled work-force ranks.  

Here are some of the reasons why Kansas City should be so bullish on the economic and job prospects for the region.

The Growth of the Manufacturing Sector. Manufacturing jobs generate a minimum of at least eight jobs for every one manufacturing job that exists, and this region is leading the way for manufacturing-based expansion and retention successes. Ford Motor Co. has built an entirely new stamping plant, a $1.3 billion dollar project, at its Claycomo facility. Ford retained at least 1,300 jobs and created an estimated 2,000 additional jobs in the process, making the Ford F-150 pickup truck and a new Transit commercial van it will produce, which Ford in-sourced from Europe back to our shores. Ford suppliers such as Johnson Controls and the Magna Corp. make deliberate efforts to recruit, train, and hire from the Kansas City region, increasing the economic impact on the unemployed and underemployed ranks of its local citizenry.  

In addition, General Motors spent over $225 million to expand its Fairfax plant and build a new painting facility. Yanfeng Automotive USA, a major GM supplier located in Riverside, announced it will hire more than 700 new workers. Harley-Davidson announced that it will manufacture a new model motorcycle at its Kansas City plant, helping to retain its over 800-person labor force in the region.  

Information Technology. The Information Technology sector surge has been led by the Cerner Corp., a homegrown $2.7-billion technology company that is a leader in the worldwide transformation of medical records. They have provided expansion at the Legends business complex in Wyandotte County, where they are scheduled to hire up to 4,500 workers. Cerner also recently announced a $1 billion makeover of the dilapidated Bannister Mall site, and is slated to eventually hire up to 15,000 people. Cerner’s deliberate outreach to local school districts to develop and train future “Cerner Scholars” will help stem the youth “brain drain” that our region has fretted about for the last 25 years.

Google’s defined intent to modernize the Wi-Fi internet infrastructure of poor neighborhoods and the urban core areas has generated intense interest of young entrepreneurs, who also are enthused with locating in Downtown locations. The Think-Big Incubator, led by Herb Sih, is bursting at the seams with start-up IT entrepreneurs, who wish to live and work in the Downtown area. The Plaza/Westport area is brimming with Young IT start-up moguls who are attracting their friends and peers who yearn to be part of an “IT beehive” of ideas, innovation, and capitalism.

Health Care. The health-care sector, led by private health-care institutions such as the St. Luke’s system, HCA, and Children’s Mercy Hospitals & Clinics, and public institutions such as Truman Medical Center and the University of Kansas Hospital, are destinations for health-care providers, and also offer some of the best health-care services in the country. This sector is buttressed by the Stowers Institute and the work they are doing to help establish a life-sciences presence in Kansas City. Health-care job openings continue to be the largest in the region.

These opportunities have motivated city leaders and senior management to look at developing loan pools, economic development policies and local training and employment incentives to meet direct hiring needs of residents. It has motivated education and training organizations to develop curriculum and training calendars that are more employer-centric.

It has motivated non-profit organizations to call for more coordination and alignment to ensure economic growth for minorities and for the poor.

But most importantly, it should make us all run faster to catch up to the opportunities that may surpass us.