Billionaire Buffett Lends Clout to Kansas

When a man whose net worth is north of $80 billion makes a visit to your city, you pay attention.  Tuesday morning, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, alongside Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer and GEICO Chairman Tony Nicely, helped announce the addition of a GEICO service center and 500 jobs to the city of Lenexa.  

Buffett made his first investment in GEICO in 1951 when he purchased some of the company’s stock.  In 1996, GEICO officially became a subsidiary of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company as he bought out the remaining stock.  GEICO now produces revenue upwards of $25 billion.  With money like that, Buffett has his pick of places to expand.  When it came down to the Kansas City area,  he says it was about the potential and the people.  “I’ve seen it (Kansas City) just grow!  The whole area,” exclaimed Buffett.  “Like I say, I hate to have Nebraska lose out but if we’re gonna lose I’d like to lose to Kansas,” he said to Governor Colyer with a wry smile.  “Work ethic, and just plain friendliness, that’s not ever to be underestimated, because it works.”

Governor Colyer echoed those sentiments.  “It’s about the people, and that is, we have the best workforce in America.  We want our kids to stay here, we’re committed to the education, we work hard.”  According to the governor, Kansas has added 21,000 jobs in the last 12 months and the state has an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent.  He admits the state has had its challenges but he’s seeing an uptick.  “What we’re seeing is that we are growing the Kansas economy, people are coming in, moving in to the job market,” said Colyer.  “And as we’re starting to grow those jobs, they’re higher value jobs.”

“I’d say the word growing is important,” said GEICO President Bill Roberts.  “We like to be in large population centers where we have the potential to grow the workforce.  You’ve got a great education system, you’ve got great living conditions for everybody.  We looked at a lot of places and this one kind of came out on top.”

Kansas City Area Development Council President Tim Cowden is one of the people who helped convince GEICO to make the $10 million investment in the 55,000 square foot office space just south of Kansas City.  The addition of 500 or more jobs is the largest job creation in the KC area in at least a year, according to Cowden.  But for him, this is about looking beyond the initial impact this will have on the city and the suburbs.  “They do everything long-term and they really protect the value of their brand.  They have such a powerful brand in the marketplace,” said Cowden.  “So for them, GEICO, to align their brand with Kansas City’s brand is huge.”  

The beauty of a city like Kansas City, in Cowden’s eyes, is having options.  “We provide choice,” stated Cowden.  “The next company?  It may be on the Missouri side, or in the Northland, or somewhere else out on the Kansas side.  We provide balance, this is a great place to grow your career, and your life, and people all across the country are discovering what a wonderful place Kansas City is to do business.”

The hiring process begins immediately for this service center and the company estimates that the facility will be operational in August of this year.