Over the course of four decades, any city can decline, and quite a few have. Not all of them will rise from their self-induced ashes. Kansas City is one that refused to go gently into that good night. And, from its inception, Ingram’s has been there to witness some of the lows, but many more of the highs that have marked the revival of Downtown, the expansion of the suburbs, and the growth of a metropolitan area rich in economic, demographic and cultural diversity.
If you navigate the pages of Ingram’s since that inaugural edition, you can literally see a community grappling with an economy undergoing profound change. When the magazine launched during Gerald Ford’s presidency, America’s economy was more reliant on manufacturing, Interstate 435 was a novelty on the city’s suburban fringe, and Microsoft was an 8-month-old startup that almost no one had heard of outside of Albuquerque.
We’ve been here to witness and archive stark changes over the decades, and not simply as bystanders. The magazine, too, has evolved from its first tentative steps under the name of Outlook, thence under the flag of Corporate Report, and ultimately, Ingram’s. The one constant throughout all those years has been an unwavering commitment to covering the business of Kansas City at the macro level: the local, national and even global trends that are shaping our hometown economy, the executives who are leading change within their vital sectors, and the people and companies whose stellar performance, we believe, should inspire in all of us a desire to excel.
To commemorate the magazine’s history in all of that, we present this special feature of excerpts selected from across the decades, touching on issues of yore that, in many cases, are still making an impact on the community today. And since we now enjoy the perspective that can come only with time, we offer with each clip a touch of 20/20 hindsight.
The past? It’s always with us. As for the future, we promise that the next 40 years of Ingram’s will be just as committed to understanding and archiving business in this region, and doing our part to help build a greater Kansas City.
Charter Issue Publisher’s Letter
Then: I believe that Kansas City is entering an exciting and promising new era, an era of planned growth and a new dynamic spirit. OUTLOOK is a new publication intended to report on, and to be a forum for, the Kansas City economic community. I believe that our approach to business journalism has never been more relevant and in demand than right now.
My decision to become a publisher goes well beyond the “we need one” connotation. I believe that OUTLOOK will be an essential, authoritative, timely and positive source of information about the economic thrust and focus of Kansas City.
OUTLOOK will regularly present the views
of people who have proven their expertise in meeting the area’s special opportunities and challenges. We will cover business and investment topics which local publishers and broadcasters have heretofore been reluctant or unable to tackle. We will provide specialized investment information and relate that information to the Kansas City market. The strong business and journalistic backgrounds of the people associated with OUTLOOK will help our readers to better understand the economic forces at work here. I also believe that it is important for OUTLOOK to take an active role in Kansas City’s growth. We will distribute nationally over 1,500 copies of each issue to key executives of expanding firms to present the full range of activities and developments in Kansas City finance, investment, agribusiness, real estate, commerce and industry.
In summary, OUTLOOK will cast a clear eye on the complex business world and take a firmly positive stance in the economic community. We anticipate an ever-growing community support for this publication, and encourage our readers to send us their comments.
— Ludwell G. Gaines, Outlook Publisher
Now: We hope Ingram’s continues to carry that torch ably, Mr. Gaines. Thanks for the inspiration.
DECEMBER 1975 / JANUARY 1976
Then: As the holding company thrust subsides, Kansas City banks confront challenges of statewide money mobility and growth. Nearly a decade ago, Missouri bankers began to look anew upon the entity known as a holding company, to look with the hope that this could be a way to bigness and greatness for banks in a state that easily raises its populist hackles when Big Business in any form shows its strength.
Missouri law has always prohibited branch banking, and the state’s voters resoundingly defeated a 1958 referendum on branching. The Federal Banking Act of 1956 prohibited companies from expanding across state lines and empowered the Federal Reserve to approve holding company acquisitions of bank stock and holding company mergers. In 1968, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a consent decree against Mercantile Bank Corporation, Inc., which then controlled 18.5 percent of all deposits in greater St. Louis, ordering Mercantile to divest and sell its Security Bank stock and not acquire any other banks in St. Louis city or county until 1973. Thus the stage was set for seeking growth paths across county lines.
Now: We indeed thought the financial-services sector was roiling back then. But we had no idea what would be in store close to four decades later, when a couple of fellows in Congress, names of Dodd and Frank, got done assessing what the banking system needed.
February / March
The $20 Million Giveaway
Then: Out-of-state firms collect millions of dollars in fees for managing local pension funds but local managers can bring it
back home. Over the past eight years, 25 local firms have received about $20 million in investment management fees, representing compensation for managing 70 percent of the retirement fund assets of the Missouri-Kansas market (excluding metro St. Louis). Not one of these firms is headquartered in Kansas or Missouri. Only one, White, Weld & Co. currently has an office in the two-state area.
The apparent propensity of metropolitan Kansas City to look far east for management is in direct contrast to the St. Louis investment community, where over 70 percent of the retirement assets are managed by Missouri-based investment managers, primarily St. Louis
banks. Apparently, pension executives in St. Louis have not found it necessary to select out-of-state investment management. Were Kansas City pension executives sold a bill of goods, or were they merely lured gently away?
Now: Stories like this have been our stock in trade for decades, exploring complicated issues with the kind of depth missing in publications that serve general-interest audiences. That goal is unchanged today.
Too Many Strings Attached — Federal Dollars; Local Government
Then: “Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die,” someone once said. This could have been referring to the mixed emotions local officials harbor on the subject of federal aid and the inevitable control it brings. Federal aid to state and local governments including cities, counties, school districts and numerous special governmental jurisdictions began just after the Korean War and took the form of special categorical grants for singular purposes.
From its meager beginning, federal aid to state and local governments has become so dependent upon federal funds for the provision of basic governmental services that to discontinue federal financial assistance would be catastrophic. It would mean a complete reshaping of governmental programs which affect every aspect of the lives of American people.
Now: We indeed were onto something. The explosion programs conceived in Washington, but ultimately paid for by the states, has produced a series of perverse incentives and one-size-fits-all approaches to policy that
have led to gross inefficiencies and wasted resources—including tax dollars.
Agribusiness Big in KC
Then: If anyone needs reminding about the importance of agribusiness to the metropolitan Kansas City economy, a look at a new Midwest Research Institute study puts things in perspective. The study shows that sales and receipts from agribusiness and agricultural production in metropolitan Kansas City (Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas and Jackson, Clay, Platte, Cass and Ray counties in Missouri) totaled more than $5.6 billion in 1976. This amount is equal to two-thirds of the total sales and receipts derived from all manufacturing activity within the metropolitan area. In addition, $700 million was loaned to farmers and agribusiness from the city’s financial institutions, $323 million in farmland was sold by Kansas City real estate firms, and, in 1977, approximately $26 million will be spent in the city by people attending agribusiness conventions.
Wages and salaries of more than 94,000 employees supported by agribusiness activities amount to more than $869 million annually. This is equivalent to 85 percent of the total employment in all manufacturing industries in the metropolitan area. It’s 17 percent of total metro employment. Midwest Research Institute figures that, conservatively speaking, one out of every six people in the Kansas City work force is directly or indirectly supported by agribusiness.
Now: As recently as November 2013, Ingram’s deeply explored the often-overlooked sector of agribusiness in this region, and the undeniable importance that the sector plays in the regional economy. Some things, it seems, never change.
June / July
Raising the Minimum Wage
Then: The rhetoric still rages and the debates continue. The minimum wage bill (which took effect Jan. 1, 1978, raising the minimum wage to $2.30/hour) does raise some very difficult questions. However, because of reporting methods, it is too early to determine what the effects of the new minimum wage bill will be on the nation and more particularly on the Greater Kansas City trade areas. The Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has taken no stand on it to date. The national chamber is doing a survey on it, but only with the passage of more time will the real impact be felt.
Now: Remarkably, this debate continues to resurface every few years. Lost in the stale boilerplate of rhetoric over that time has been the fact that the market takes care of a lot of this issue. Recall that, in the late 1990s, fast-food establishments strapped for workers were offering better than $10 an hour (roughly $14.30 today, adjusted for inflation). And our response to those who refuse to see the shortcomings of a minimum wage is the same today as back then: Why not make the minimum $100 an hour?
Piecing Together City Center Square
Then: Until very recently, one of the tallest buildings in downtown KC kept a remarkably
low profile. By its location and sheer size—it covers one square city block,—City Center Square
has generated a great deal of speculation. Is the 30-story office tower/retail complex a white elephant, or just a few years ahead of its time? Was it built to meet a demand or generate one? How did it come about that one of the most ambitious projects in Downtown in decades was
developed and financed by out-of-towners? And
finally, just exactly who owns City Center Square?
These are vital questions, because City Center Square is more than just an interesting building concept. It was the kick-off project, and the key project, in a master plan to revitalize Downtown.
Now: The questions that plagued Down-
town office space then are still lingering, but there’s plenty of optimism arising with projects that will convert obsolete buildings into residential and other uses.
Then: The executive who says “It can’t happen to us” is a prime target for a crime by computer. This is a scare story. Its intention is to get top management off its collective seat and into the EDP area, figuratively and literally.
If a computer center is a part of your operation but you don’t concern yourself with that area or its security (it’s someone else’s job) skip this article and save yourself the few minutes it will take to read it. But in a fraction of that time, your company could be ripped off by a light-fingered computer embezzler to the tune of $430,000. What’s more, this crime may never be detected, but even if it is, and the perpetrator is caught, the odds are strong that he or she will never spend a day in jail.
Strong statistical evidence exists for each of the seemingly outlandish statements you’ve just read. Why a figure like $430,000? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that’s the average take per heist in electronic breaking and entering via computer. A lowly bank robber, by comparison, nets a paltry $10,000 for his efforts.
No wonder FBI Director William Webster said his agency is giving high priority to white-collar crime, a variety of wrongdoing that used to be referred to as the crime of the future.
Now: And that piece was written more than a decade before the word “Internet” became part of our vocabulary. And thanks to the global reach of the World Wide Web, white-collar theft is now a growth sector for just about anyone with an Internet
connection in Nigeria, it seems.
Marching Down Main
Then: The new, big-boy development in town, Pershing Square, is due to start pushing its weight around in about a year. And from the reputation of its developer, it should be a handsome complement to that other big boy in the neighborhood, Crown Center—the defending champion of Downtown Kansas City face-saving.
Ground-breaking ceremonies for the first phase of the $500 million Pershing Square development were held in May just east of grand old Union Station, and construction was scheduled to begin in mid-June. Pershing, the largest proposed development in the history of Kansas City—expected to surpass even Crown Center in money spent—is only a block north on Main Street from Crown Center.
The first Pershing building, due to open in August 1980, is a 160,000 square feet, eight-story office structure, with the redoubtable title of One Pershing Square.
Now: It’s been a prestigious business address and, in recent years, something closer to a cavern with office vacancies, but the General Service Administration’s December announcement that nearly 1,000
federal workers would be relocated into the building from their Bannister Mall digs is yet another hopeful sign that Downtown’s newfound vibrancy will endure.
Condominiums Come of Age in Kansas City
Then: What’s up to date in Kansas City? Condominiums. (If you can spell it right off, you can afford one.) And who’s got the biggest condo project in the city? Crown Center. (Natch.) But there have been some rumors underground that the downtown developer’s giant condo, so of Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., (whose parent is Hallmark Cards) is floundering. The structure was up there all right—all 30 stories of it—but few were living there. There was the talk that Hallmark may have sent its very best once again, but that Kansas City—foolishly—didn’t care enough to buy.
Not so, oh cynics and would-be trust busters. Crown Center indeed suffered two very lean condo years—1977 and much of 1978—but now the 135-unit San Francisco Towers, completed in December 1976, is about 70 percent filled and the Crown Center people already have their eyes on another high-rise condo development for next year.
Now: The real-estate crisis of 2008 left a mark on the nation’s residential housing market, but it stung condo sales particularly hard. New, tighter lending practices have made condo ownership a challenge for all but the wealthiest who could front at least 20 percent down—or more. As a result, resale values have plunged, listing times have soared, and apartments now rule the day Downtown. The occupancy rate on apartments is currently estimated at more than 95 percent.
in a Softening Economy
Then: While the rest of the nation cools with recessionary anticipation, a number of Kansas City firms are gearing up. The nation’s businesses may not be barricading their doors against double-digit inflation or an impending recession, but on a national basis they appear to be more concerned with the changing economic conditions than do many of the Kansas City area businesses. Kansas City, of course, is not immune to the hardships the economy may suffer on business in 1980, but those contacted by Outlook have a generally positive attitude about the new business year, and many will back that optimism with ambitious plans for increased capital expenditures.
Now: We know that the nation was entering the depths of a grueling recession and a horrid economy that saw voters give Jimmy Carter the heave-ho that fall. Ronald Reagan inherited a mess, but when he left office after two terms, the economic fundamentals of the Reagan Revolution were completely validated. We can only wonder what might have been had Congress not engaged in spending sprees during that span.
The Computer Explosion
Then: Sales of minicomputers are soaring as dealers tap the burgeoning small-business market. Relatively untapped in the early 1970s, small businesses have become a new frontier for a computer industry that found technology to reduce computer sizes along with their price tags.
Kansas City, like most metro areas, has become prime hunting ground for salesmen peddling their smaller wares (both soft and hard). Research groups estimate that at least 1,500 Kansas City small businesses (defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees) now use computers for general accounting tasks. And the market here and nationally is reportedly increasing 30 percent each year.
Now: That, ladies and gentlemen, was
a full five years before a small startup called Microsoft went public, and windows were something you cleaned at home in the spring and fall.
Leaving the Livable City
Then: There’s little stopping the streams of Kansas City businesses to Johnson County. Like the ancient Hebrews fleeing Egypt for the promised land, Kansas City businesses have been steadily migrating into Kansas for more than a decade. The roster of relocated companies reads like a Who’s Who of area businesses: KCMO, Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Employers Reinsurance Corp., The Vendo Co., Allstate Insurance, H.D. Lee Co., Yellow Freight,
The Marley Co., to name only a handful.
In a study compiled by Coldwell Banker, the national real estate services company—which only counted companies using 10,000 or more square feet—roughly 100 companies have migrated in the past 10 years across the state line from Jackson to Johnson County. Moreover, at least for the moment, the exodus is not slowing.
Now: The Border War, then, is not something recent, even in economic terms.
Johnson County now attracts nearly as many commuters as Downtown does. Prop-
erly done, that can be a good thing. But the business incentives that have surrendered tens of millions in tax revenue, without creating additional jobs, can’t remotely be described as properly done.
Who Writes the Lion’s Share
of Libel Insurance?
Then: When Penthouse magazine was ordered in 1981 to pay Wyoming beauty queen Kimerli Pring $14 million for allegedly insinuating in an article that she was sexually promiscuous, shock waves roared through the insurance industry. Nowhere were they felt more strongly than in the offices of Employers Reinsurance Corp. and Media/Professional Insurance Inc. These two Johnson County-based companies write some 80 percent of all libel insurance policies for an industry segment that generates an estimated $25 million in annual premiums.
Now: They’re both gone today. It’s im-
possible to pin down all the root causes now, but Media/Professional ceased to exist three years later, when its registration with the Kansas Secretary of State was withdrawn. ERC was a division of General Electric Insurance Services when the parent was acquired by Swiss Re in 1985.
A Local Line-Up of Foreign Firms
Then: Reverse investment. That’s the US’s name for a game other countries have played for some time—stimulating local econ-
omies with jobs and cash generated by foreign firms. KC is a relative newcomer to the re-
verse-investment game, but is learning quickly.
In the past six years, the metropolitan area has attracted 13 foreign companies from Europe and the Far East. In total, these businesses created some 535 jobs locally and made $16.5 million in capital investments.
Now: Time has cemented Kansas City’s role in the global economy, with developments like the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 and Interstate 35’s emergence as the NAFTA Superhighway, connecting markets from Mexico and Canada to the central U.S.
Then: It is not business as usual for many Kansas City companies. The times do not allow it. Markets have shifted, costs have increased and technology has advanced. But an equally dramatic development—one that may be harder to handle than others because it has occurred more slowly—is that employees’ attitudes have changed. Employees want more than a paycheck. They want to exert influence over their work and their work environment, and they want immediate feedback on the jobs they’re doing.
Some organizations and companies are attempting to meet the challenge by involving their employees in the decision-making process. Each organization uses its own approach. But the goals are usually the same—better quality products and services, cost containment, better morale, an entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity and accountability thro-ughout every level of the organization.
Now: Those employee desires have been embraced by forward-thinking companies, chief executives and their HR departments, and those developments, in part, gave rise to Ingram’s annual Best Companies to Work For awards in 2008.
The Search for Capital
Then: Small businesses in the area report that money is tight, but local banks say they’re anxious to make new loans.
Now: Some things really never change…
Who Says the Kings are Moving?
Then: It could happen. The Kings, the most improved team (with 45 wins and 37 los-ses) in the National Basketball Association in the 1982–83 season, could leave Kansas City in the summer of ’85—just pack up and move, leaving the city shy one major-league basketball team and short one major tenant for its $20.8 million, 16,600-seat Kemper Arena, on which the city still owes $17.9 million.
The Kings probably would go to Sacramento, where their new owners live and hold title to 435 acres of land that has been promoted as a great place to build a 17,000-seat arena.
Now: We’ll always think fondly of Scotty Wedman, Sam Lacey and Tiny Archi-
bald. Now, if we could only get the NBA back into town with the Sprint Center …
A Strong Recovery Gets Stronger
Then: 1984 promises to be a good year economically in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The national recovery, which began in the first quarter of 1983, is expected to continue, and we in Kansas City should share in the growth. Relatively stable prices and interest rates, along with the presidential election and consumer confidence, should combine to keep the economy on an upward path.
Kansas Citians should be particularly pleased, since the recession(s) of 1980 and 1982 hit the area much harder than the nation overall.
But we started on the road to recovery a full six months sooner than the national economy.
Now: After the 2007–2009 recession and four years of flat economic performance, we really can think of the mid-’80s as the Good Old Days.
The Corporate Challenge
Then: The Post Office isn’t slow. Pharmacologists are almost as strong as telephone linemen. Hallmark doesn’t always care eno-ugh to send the very best.
These remarkable (and possibly erroneous) conclusions are drawn from the results of this past summer’s local version of the Olympic Games, the Kansas City Corporate Challenge, inaugurated in 1980. The brainchild of former Kansas City Power & Light executive Sparky Needham, Corporate Challenge pits some 30 teams of talented weekend athletes against each other in a week-long struggle for corporate bragging rights.
Now: We know that Needham was indeed onto something. Soaring health-insurance costs for companies have made corporate wellness programs a must for businesses of almost any size, and the need for successful models gave rise to Ingram’s Fittest Execs and Fittest Companies Challenge in 2009. Since then, hundreds of executives and employees from many of area corporations have realized the power of peer pressure and executive engagement in matters of health and fitness.
Deathwatch at Union Station
Then: The city’s famous landmark is rapidly becoming a monument to decay and neglect. Kansas City’s biggest and grandest haunted house is 70 years old this month. It’s a wonder that no sharp entrepreneur has opened its doors to hand-holding couples and nervous teenagers, who might wander its dark corridors to the sounds of tape-recorded howls and chain rattling. “Union Station Morgue” could be its name. The price, say
$5, could be spray-painted on a plywood sign; black cats, ghosts and Frankenstein monster cut-outs could be glued on the windows.
Designed to last for centuries by Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt, Kansas City’s most monumental structure faces an indefinite
future as a monumental ruin.
Now: We love happy endings, and the 1/8th-cent bistate approved by voters in the region in 1996 raised $250 million for restoration of what once again is an iconic structure in Downtown Kansas City. In addition to corporate office space, the rehabbed structure is home to restaurants, theaters and Science City.
Transportation: Two for the Road
Then: Deregulation has revolutionized the transportation business in America by creating a competitive environment for companies in the airline, trucking and railroad industries. That environment has increased options for consumers and sent prices plummeting and soaring. It has also given rise to tension between workers and transportation companies, which are slashing labor costs in order to make a profit.
But in Kansas City, deregulation has brought about at least two additional developments: the establishment of a large Eastern Airlines hub and the establishment of a big Burlington Northern Inc. operation. Both companies, free under deregulation to set up operations wherever they wanted, pinpointed Kansas City as the place to launch a campaign for a share of the Midwestern market. Together, the two companies brought more than 300 jobs to Kansas City and increased the city’s reputation as a transportation center.
Now: Eastern is long gone, but Kansas City’s appeal as a national lynchpin for distribution has only grown in the decades since.
East Meets West in Mid-America
Then: Their story is as old as America. They come for freedom, for jobs, for a better life for their children. The names change, but the story is the same. They are Kansas City’s immigrants, and the fastest-growing group among them is Asian.
Their influence can be seen by passersby on storefront shop signs like Szechuan Restaurant, Hung Vuong Market, or Chung’s Tae Kwon Do School, and the Vietnamese character lettering of River Quay graffiti. Less visible, but increasingly important to Kansas City, are the names on faculty listings of area colleges, employee rolls of research facilities, medical staff rosters at the region’s hospitals, and names in the boardrooms and administrative offices of companies engaged in international trade.
Now: Business programs at major universities in the region, including UMKC and the schools of business at KU, Missouri and K-State, have strong international influences in their leadership and academic ranks, and the teaching of global entrepreneurship at the Bloch School of Management is earning that UMKC department a world-wide reputation for excellence.
The Best Little Warehouses in KC
Then: Remember the industrial park, that real estate creature of the 1950s, where huge concrete-block warehouses squatted be-hind patches of grass and acres of asphalt, tractor-trailers lined up along one side and railroad cars the other?
In its day—and its day wasn’t all that long ago—the industrial park was considered quite the innovation, a pleasant alternative to the grimy, crowded conditions prevalent in traditional city manufacturing and warehouse districts like Kansas City’s West Bottoms.
But just as the industrial parks of the 1950s made the West Bottoms and its ilk obsolete, a new genre of industrial real estate development has come along to make most industrial parks as dated as tailfins on a Plymouth.
Whatever the reason, the result is the same: industrial parks and the huge “bulk space” warehouses are out. Sleek new developments called “business parks,” filled with architecturally distinct buildings catering to a new generation of American industrial businesses, are in.
Now: As ESPN’s Lee Corso might say, “not so fast, my friend.” Industrial parks are still with us, in many cases undergoing transformation into technology parks and distribution/warehouse facilities. But Kansas City boasts a series of impressive office parks to go along with them.
Then: Some call it the Southern Corridor. Some just South. For our purposes in the following story, we’re calling it Southland. Lots of business people think of it as The Office, since that’s where their offices are. To even more folks it’s simply Home.
But whatever you call the area south of 85rd Street east into Missouri and west into Kansas, you’ll call it something. You are going to have to take it into account.
Commercial and residential growth to the south is booming. Ten years ago, no one you knew had an address anywhere near 151th Street. Or, as one long-time Midtown resident
put it: “I used to get a nosebleed south of 103rd.” And it seems like just yesterday that the land and sky out that way did look empty enough to feel like high altitude.
That’s changing. And changing fast.
Now: 151st? Try 199th, or 207th, the Johnson County/Miami County line in
Kansas, or the Missouri Highway 150 cor-
ridor, below which Cass County further to the south has become a powerful draw for suburban development. Kansas City has reached out in all directions, including the northern reaches of Platte County (following development of the KCI business corridor) and Clay County, and Wyandotte Cou-
nty is a decade into that mix with its Village West/Kansas Speedway development.
Then: With office and warehouse markets amply supplied, shopping centers are the seductive new real estate romp. Kansas City developers are all eyes. For each development “fad” the public observes, there almost always are sound economic and demand-oriented reasons for development to occur. This is best illustrated by the most recent category of commercial real estate to boom in Kansas City, the strip shopping center.
Currently, while there are preliminary plans
for new regional malls in Olathe and western Shawnee, there are no new malls under construction. But for the strip center—the I-shaped or L-shaped neighborhood or community shopping center often anchored by a grocery or discount store and filled out with card shops, pizza delivery stations, and beauty salons—1987 will be remembered as a year of tremendous expansion throughout metropolitan Kansas City.
Now: The wheels of time, like those of commerce, grind on, and many of those strip centers have outlived their appeal. Some are destined for demolition, but others are being repurposed into satellite-campuses and classrooms for universities, medical office buildings and other non-retail uses that can take advantage of the ample parking and easy access those sites provide.
Bring Down the House
Then: While Kansas Citians are preoccupied with the Allis Plaza’s health, the fate of the Hotel Muehlebach may be hanging in the balance.
For more than 50 years, the Hotel Muehlebach represented the best Kansas City had to offer. Its stylish elegance catered to generations of America’s elite and put rest to the notion that Kansas City was a no-account cow town without a decent place to hang your hat.
But the music died in the 1970s, the guests went south to the Plaza, and the Muehlebach began to hemorrhage red ink, losing more than a million dollars in its last year of operation before its new owner, Executive Hills Inc., shut its doors.
And though virtually every developer, Downtown businessman, and civic booster prefaces any comment about the Muehlebach with hopes that this faded jewel can be polished to its former luster, that seems unlikely.
Now: A group of investors emerged in 1996 and recruited Marriott to occupy the Muehlebach and turned it into an extension of the Kansas City Marriott Downtown. Though the Muehlebach Towers annex building was razed, the new Muehlebach tower went up in that space, and the original Muehlebach building was restored to glory.
Apartment House Blues
Then: Landlords can’t fill their buildings and they can’t sell them. Tax reform has changed the economics such that most owners owe far more than potential buyers can pay.
To imagine what it is like to be a Kansas City apartment building owner in 1988, think back to a summer Sunday in New York a few years ago, when George Brett of the Royals had a game-winning home run disallowed in what has become known as the infamous “Pine Tar Game.” When the umpire tossed out Brett’s bat for having too much pine tar above the handle, Brett and the Royals rightly felt betrayed, arguing the rules of the game had been abruptly changed on them in mid-stream.
Brett’s feelings about the change in rules were vividly expressed in a memorable fit of temper that is now part of Kansas City sports folklore. Similar expressions of anger and frustration no doubt have been released in private all over town in 1986 and 1987 by Kansas City apartment owners just as bewildered and angered by the effects of the 1986 Tax Reform Act on their business.
Simply put, the apartment business in Kansas City has been depressed since 1986, the market at first paralyzed by the uncertainties over how Congress would change the tax code and then, when the law was passed, hamstrung by its provisions.
Now: Economics and demographics have combined to flip that dynamic. The real-estate crash of 2007 created an entirely new calculus on the value of home ownership, and the latter-stage Gen-X and early Millennials crowd has shown far less interest in white picket fences, 3-car garages and suburban lawns that go on forever. Multifamily construction has led the revival of the building industry following the prolonged downturn that began around 2009.
Plans, Plans, and More Plans
Then: For 40 years, Kansas City has been planning to redevelop the riverfront. Isn’t it about time to get started? In another room, a stack of plans sits yellowing. Each tier represents a failed attempt to develop the riverfront. At the bottom, a 1947 drawing depicts a golf course on the riverbank; a 1964 plan suggests an industrial center; somebody wanted a park there in 1971; later in the decade it was an aquarium.
Recently the Economic Development Corp-oration, an umbrella organization for the city’s planning and development groups, hired a new planner who will help rework the old plans into a new one. Up to $100,000 has been spent on plans for the river, city Development Director Robert Collins says. That much money could purchase 200 streetlights for the riverfront;
a mile of sidewalk; 12 acres of sod; or two earth movers to clean up the bank.
Instead there are plans, talk, and optimism.
Now: Still waiting . . .
Hallbrook: Who, Why
and How Much?
Then: When Hallbrook Farms is completed, it will be home to 450 of Kansas City’s upper-income families. Right now, the development is the talk of the real estate community and the cocktail-party circuit, not only because of the spectacularly designed homes sprouting up there but because of the speed at which Kansas Citians have been snatching up the lots, which generally are priced from $125,000 to $775,000.
People are calling it the new Mission Hills, but it’s not old-line, Mission Hills money buying Hallbrook homes. Ask realty pros where all these luxury-home-starved people are coming from, and they’ll tell you primarily other Johnson County neighborhoods, as well as some corporate transplants.
Now: Hallbrook is indeed a premier location, and the region has not seen its like despite a huge residential construction boom that concluded in 2007. But there is only one Mission Hills on the Kansas side, and but one Ward Parkway south of the Plaza, neighborhoods that have retained their old-style charm and continue to whisper “come hither” for those seeking the executive lifestyle.
The Old College Try
Then: If you haven’t checked the prices lately at your nearby institution of higher learning, prepare for a surprise. College costs doubled and more during the 1980s. And if the current trend continues, a college degree from a private university might well cost six figures in the 21st century. That fact is causing sticker shock for many Baby Boomers who’ve finally finished paying off their own student loans and are beginning to think about how they’ll finance their kids’ college educations.
But don’t panic, financial advisers say, and don’t become obsessed by this one financial hurdle. Instead, parents should get their own savings and investment strategies worked out before worrying about college tuition bills.
Now: Well, that “current trend” did indeed continue, and college costs are still of paramount concern not only to latter-end Baby Boomers, but older Gen Xers, as well. Critics say easy credit through federally guaranteed student loans has created an education bubble, and area universities have invested heavily to create programs that help students render the cost of a degree more affordable.
In Search of Common Ground
Then: Emanuel Cleaver faces this mayoral challenge: to create harmony in a city of growing political factions. After 11 years on the Kansas City Council, the last three as mayor pro-tem, Emanuel Cleaver has become one of Kansas City’s most prominent political leaders—a forceful and respected voice in community issues. With Mayor Richard Berkeley vowing to end his City Hall tenure, Cleaver has been signaling that he wants the top job.
He’s already bowed out of next year’s 5th District Council race, but it’s not because he wants to rein in the hectic pace of his life. Instead, he has commissioned several polls to determine whether Kansas Citians are ready to elect their first black mayor.
Now: The finding of those polls produced a resounding “yes.” Cleaver went on to become the city’s 51st mayor, serving two terms through 1999, and since 2004, he’s won four elections to serve as 5th Congressional District representative in the U.S. House.
The Riverfront Gamblers
Then: Against all odds, these Kansas Citians are betting on a revitalized River Market area. It has to rank as one of the most daring real-estate developments in recent Kansas City history. First, there’s rehabilitation, which backers of the River Market project quickly will tell you is the most difficult kind of real estate development to manage. Next, there’s the image problem. Revitalization in the River Market district flourished briefly in the 1970s and then flamed out, the victim of mob corruption and violence that remains a stigma on the area.
Add to that the timing. Real estate is in the dumps. Bankers are nervous. And as the nation’s longest peacetime economic expansion draws to a close, the prospect for business start-ups is dim.
Yet the initial signs are promising for Kansas City’s $40.6 million River Market redevelopment.
Now: That daring paid off. Kansas City’s River Market area, where nary a whiff of Mob influence is in the air, has become one of the hot spots amid the Downtown revitalization, both as a place to live (apartment construction continues apace in 2014) and as a business address.
Up in Smoke
Then: Although they billow endorsements, local political clubs’ power has nearly been extinguished. Whrrr. Whrrr. Whrrr. Can you hear it? It’s the sound of Tom Pendergast spinning in his grave.
He’s stirring because in Tom’s town, like the rest of the metro area, political clubs are declining, perhaps dying, as a major electoral force. A roll call of local political experts gives a vote of “no confidence” for the future of clubs—except for a handful that have transcended traditional club boundaries.
Now: Quick—name three such clubs that still exert influence in 2014. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
By the Light of the Moon
Then: The new moonlighting has nothing to do with those people. In a specialist society, the new moonlighters have developed another specialty, another career interest. The moonlighting career might be worlds apart from the daytime profession, or it might be a natural outgrowth of what the person does by day.
Whether an outlet for untapped or underused talent, a retail product or a service that goes beyond the scope of a 9-to-5 job, or a “have-it-all” approach to life, moonlighting fills the bill.
Moonlighters want money, prestige, success, a little fun, and a chance to help others or advance knowledge in a particular field. Sometimes they can’t get all that from one career. So they need two.
Now: Back then, a second job was trendy. In the post-recessionary economy of 2014, it’s mandatory for many.
VR’s (not so) Civil War
Then: “There are no Thompsons at
J. Walter Thompson,” Chuck Curtis says. “No McCanns at McCann-Ericson.” And, as of June 18, no Valentines at Valentine-Radford.
That was the day the five executives—President John Valentine, Executive Creative Director Scott McCormick, Director of Integrated Marketing Craig Ligibel, Chief Operating Officer Freda Schroeder, and Boasberg Valentine-Radford Vice President Jerry Schleicher—walked.
The resignations followed a series of events that began in late May, when Valentine, McCormick and Ligibel, unhappy with Curtis’ ambitious acquisition program and the high rate of staff turnover, asked the CEO to resign. Curtis refused and rallied his forces, including clients and the media. Two days later, the board voted to drop the motion for Curtis’ departure. In less than three weeks, Curtis was waving good-bye to his detractors and their supporters.
Now: As the world knows, Valentine, McCormick and Ligibel went on to found a company called VML in 1992, and its embrace of digital marketing and advertising has made it a global brand in the field of branding. Valentine-Radford? Long gone.
Tug of War
Then: North Kansas City’s most treasured asset sits on a wooded bluff overlooking the clutter of fast-food restaurants, liquor stores, convenience shops, and industrial warehouses crowding the east end of Armour Road.
The biggest mistake any local can make is to forget how jealously the town guards its city-owned hospital—a beige brick complex surrounded by 50 acres of rolling lawn that for years has been the most profitable hospital in the metro area. Les Haymons lost his $347,496 job as hospital president because
he made that mistake.
“I think he thought the hospital was his,” says Terry Myers, the new chairman of the North Kansas City Hospital board that fired Haymons in June. “It isn’t.” After taking the hospital from near collapse to prosperity, Haymons clashed with financially strapped town leaders over control of the hospital’s rich reserves.
This summer, the skirmish escalated into
a suburban version of a Wall Street takeover battle. The fight has entangled the entire community. Officials duck for cover as accusations of arrogance and avarice open wounds that may never heal and skewer the image of a hospital struggling to help the sick. New hospital leaders struggle to revive lagging staff morale and say the battle deflected attention from larger problems such as falling profits and stiffer competition.
Haymons, a deposed executive who knew more about profits than politics, has withdrawn from the fight, exacting a $1.06 million settlement in lieu of a lawsuit. And townspeople are reeling from a painful lesson: that local governments and city-owned hospitals can make for a dangerous mix.
Now: After a power struggle in 2012, the city changed its bylaws regarding hospital ownership to ensure that any prospect of a hospital sale would require overwhelming community support. And NKC Hospital today is the Northland’s largest health-care provider, and one of its biggest business employers.
How Much Do We Want
Then: Rarely has Kansas City’s commitment to wooing convention business been so apparent. Skyscraper cranes, workers hunched over fountains of sparks, and acres of steel and concrete are bridging Broadway with an expanded Bartle Hall. City leaders talk to billionaire presidential candidates and other developers about building a new convention hotel Downtown. Banker Crosby Kemper flashes his checkbook to help keep the Future Farmers of America convention in Kansas City.
“It would be unthinkable not to meet their request,” Kemper said after the association threatened to shop for a new host city if Kansas City didn’t ante up $365,000 a year, as well as other incentives, to keep it here. “The convention is as much a fixture in Kansas City as the waters of the Missouri. What’s more important to Kansas City than the FFA convention?”
Now: The answer to Kemper’s question, it seems, was “meh.” The city did lose the FFA, and for years has been trying to put into place the pieces that could make it a second-tier convention site once again. Simple economic fundamentals of that sec-
tor suggest that Kansas City will never again hold the top-tier status it had in the 1970s.
Fire and Ice
Then: Kansas City’s urban renewal depends on a handful of developers, some private, some public. The question is: Can they coexist? For 30 years now, cities across America have wrestled with the same problem: Flight to the suburbs, dwindling tax bases, and a severe decline in employment have stamped what sociologists call a “doughnut hole” out of the cities’ centers. From Boston to Birmingham, once-proud urban areas languish as businesses with money turn toward the suburbs.
Kansas City is no exception. But while some cities, such as Atlanta, have made great strides in revitalizing their urban cores, Kansas City’s efforts have resulted in only isolated pockets of redevelopment, such as 12th and Brooklyn.
What’s the problem here? For Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, the answer is simple: “The Atlantas, Chicagos, New York Cities have more rich black folks. What we see in a few isolated spots in the central city here are anomalies.” But the problem is more complex than that, and it’s inextricably linked to issues as divergent as race, crime and financing. At the heart is an emerging debate about private and public development.
Now: Nowhere in Kansas City have public-private partnerships come into being, and produced more change, than Downtown. Much of the estimated $6 billion in investment on a new Downtown has come from cost-sharing efforts to jump-start projects that might not otherwise have made it to market, left to private sources alone.
Then: No longer just a luxury, videoconferencing saves time and money for everyone from rural hospital patients to business people. A child in western Kansas sits on an examination table in her doctor’s office, unaware that she’s about to be seen by a University of Kansas Medical Center pediatric cardiologist—from miles away.
Over a television screen, the KU specialist greets her, then begins an examination. With the help of the child’s doctor, the
specialist listens to the child’s heartbeat and
breathing and inspects X-rays, electrocardio-
grams, and sonograms over the monitor.
This long-distance medical exam is but one of the ways organizations increasingly are using videoconferencing to save time and money and bring information and services to remote or far-flung areas. Businesses use videoconferencing to hold business meetings, which saves the cost of national and international travel. Universities use it to bring instruction to students in remote areas. And some organizations use the technology to recruit employees, narrowing the field of candidates over the phone lines before flying in the finalists.
Now: In the days of Skype and other Internet-based communications tools, “vid-
eoconferencing” is such a quaint term, don’t you think?
Meeting of Minds
Then: Visitors to Kansas City might view an exhibit at Bartle Hall, attend a meeting in Corporate Woods, spend the afternoon at a suburban golf course, and in the evening enjoy dinner and live jazz on the Plaza, without ever knowing they’ve crossed a state line.
But for metropolitan residents, the state line can be as divisive as the Mason-Dixon Line, providing opportunities for disagreement, stereotyping, and name-calling.
Like the rest of the metropolitan area, institutions of higher education have had to contend with the state line, competing for students, grant money, and faculty. But in recent years, educators in Kansas and Missouri have joined in ventures that cross the state line.
Now: Collaborations between institutions like Children’s Mercy Hospital and the elements of the KU Med Center complex are numerous, as are KU’s ties with UMKC, Children’s Mercy and Saint Luke’s. Even at the community college level, Metropolitan Community College has aligned with Johnson County Community College and Kansas City Kansas Community College to promote reduced-rate tuition for students crossing the state line, creating greater efficiencies in classroom instruction.
Then: When Kansas City International
Airport opened 23 years ago, developers hoped the land around it would fill with homes and offices. That didn’t happen. The airport always seemed halfway to Iowa, sitting at the end of a long haul through miles of vacant land. Weathered for-lease signs hung on the few buildings that rose from the countryside, a testament to wishful thinking and
a warning to those naive enough to believe, “If you build it, they will come.”
Time, however, may finally be catching up with the airport and the area around it. Low lease rates have led some Kansas City businesses to relocate to the area, and large blocks of available office space have lured companies outside Kansas City there. Today, the area’s occupancy rate is 95 percent.
Now: The I-29 business corridor is indeed thriving, and home to some of the region’s largest private companies. After all, there was no “when” factor attached
to “If you build it, they will come.”
The Naked Truth
Then: Welcome to the world of Kansas City’s alternative press, where middle-aged white guys with money to lose forsake early retirement for make-a-wish careers on the edge of respectability. It’s an in-your-face world of dueling tabloids, Satanic-ritual-abuse stories, politics, body parts, and rock ‘n’ roll. Fueled by idealism and ego, this world feeds on Star-bashing and populist muckraking.
The prize: perhaps the naked truth. But more likely, it’s control of a business niche worth as much as $2.5 million in advertising revenue.
Now: But those ads eventually go away if you’re not offering high-value content. As the alternatives soon painfully discovered.
Then: Plenty of sex businesses want to make money in Kansas City these days, and the most popular, like Bazooka’s, have begun approaching the market in an upscale way. Forget the seedy topless bar image. Today’s nude “juice bars” (so-called because they don’t serve liquor) are known as “gentlemen’s clubs,” and their strippers have become entertainers.
Dirty bookstores have gone up-market, too. At Ray’s Video on Main, for example, out-of-town newspapers sell alongside the fetish newspapers and the chocolate Dicks-on-a-Stick. Owner Ray Cain says many of his best customers arrive in limousines—from Johnson County. Even some escort services (read: illegal prostitution rings) are advertising “upscale” services, promising the women who work there as much as $2,000 a week.
Here and around the country, the sale of sex has become a trendy, billion-dollar business.
Now: One benefit of the virtual explosion in “prurient-interest” materials available on-line is that such establishments have a harder time making a go of things. Social conservatives who railed against those businesses should have listened to the gospels of market economies being preached in other conservative circles.
Then: You know the adage about the month of March its legendary winds of change have been known to rearrange the landscape. In this case, the landscape is the staff box over there to your left. You’ll notice that Show-Me Publishing Inc. is now listed as owner, and that Joe Sweeney is listed as publisher.
To be sure, there have been a number of changes going on inside Ingram’s this past few weeks. Most of the changes are imperceptible; they have more to do with legal points and transfer agreements than the actual printed product we know as Ingram’s. If you are worrying about whether Ingram’s, the magazine, will become something less than the readable, informative, interesting business publication that it has always been, don’t.
I’m Joe Sweeney, and I like Ingram’s too much to change its spirit. Oh, we might tweak it here and there. Massage the look, energize the content, adjust a few levers, turn a few valves. But by and large this magazine will always look, feel and read like the Ingram’s you know.
The sale of Ingram’s by Heritage Media of Texas to Show-Me Publishing marks a quick
return to local ownership and control. Heritage, a radio-oriented marketing services com-
pany that bought the magazine and two radio
stations from my friend Bob Ingram, was ea-
ger to put KC’s business magazine back in
the hands of someone who knew our city, someone with a hometown perspective who would give it respect and the attention deserved.
And that’s me. As someone who grew up in Midtown Kansas City and watched the dynamics of business, neighborhoods and politics change through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s,
I have a pretty good sense of where we’ve been. And I am looking forward to chronicling where we go from here. The metropolitan area and its business and civic communities are showing unparalleled signs of cooperation and shared vision. The old downtown where Dad worked is looking less like a cadaver and more like it’s within kissing distance of a thriving place to eat, live and be merry.
Leadership is changing. And change is both necessary and good. Otherwise you’re standing still.
This magazine has no intention of standing still. My colleagues and I look forward to providing the internal leadership necessary to take Ingram’s to its silver anniversary in the year 1999. To accomplish that, we intend to run our business as conscientiously as you run yours.
At the same time, we remain committed to the healthy, managed growth of this community. And we remain committed to fanning the commerce that pushes our collective sails.
Thanks, in advance, for your interest, your support, and your encouragement. As a hometown boy, I can’t wait to keep “giving Kansas City the business” and growing, thriving and prospering together.
— Joe Sweeney, Ingram’s Publisher
Now: Eighteen years later, the same holds true.
Start Your Engines
Then: The race is on. Kansas has the early lead and Missouri is scrambling to catch up.
After recently passing a measure to allow for public financing, Kansas could be the host state for a motorsports speedway in the Kansas City area. Missouri defeated a similar measure but, not to be outdone, has also promised to offer incentives to International Speedway Corporation, a Florida-based builder of race tracks.
The prize is a 1.5-mile, multi-purpose race track that would, according to figures compiled for ISC, generate millions of dollars for the local economy.
Now: The Kansas Speedway is a premier venue for NASCAR racing, and it anchors one of the great economic wonders of the region—the retail infusion that has made western Wyandotte County hot property, as a location to do business, shop, dine and live.
KC’s Ad Agency Boom
Then: Madison Avenue, move over—Kansas City is making its share of noise on the national advertising scene. It used to be that an advertiser seeking help would look for an agency located near a big body of water, say for instance, the Atlantic or Pacific oceans or Lake Michigan. That’s no longer true because here in the Midwest, Kansas City advertising has burst onto the national landscape like a shooting star.
It is now considered one of the country’s fastest-growing advertising communities, according to both trade associations and industry consultants.
Now: Thanks to the Internet, businesses here can compete with businesses on either coast, and in both the creative class and professional services, the underlying economics of operating a business in Kansas City provide a powerful competitive edge when going head-to-head with those companies from the eastern and western fringes.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Then: For some, Oz is a mythical land. For others, it is a $590 million theme park in search of a location in the Kansas City area. For those who believe in the latter, the scramble is on to make it a reality in their locale.
According to Robert Kory, chairman and CEO of the Oz Entertainment Co., site selection has been narrowed down to three possible locations: just west of the planned Kansas International Speedway in Wyandotte County, at the abandoned Sunflower Ammo Plant in Johnson County and in north Smithville in Missouri. The decision is still up in the air as far as the Oz people are concerned.
Now: There are visionaries, and there are those who execute the vision. Oz may be the stuff of an occasional Hollywood offering, but not a shred of that theme park ever touched down in the Kansas City area.
Casinos Roll the Dice
Then: Few private enterprises in the history of America have dedicated more energy to turning out the vote than the Missouri casino industry . The casinos want the people of Missouri to legitimize the hybrid phenomenon known as “boats in moats.” Specifically, Amendment 9 would permit casinos to operate in “artificial spaces that include water” within 1,000 feet of the main channel of either the Mississippi or the Missouri rivers. Voter approval would reverse a 1997 State Supreme Court decision to the contrary.
Now: The whole concept of riverboat casinos has long been exposed for what it was—a thinly veiled attempt to suggest that the casino industry lacked a geographic foothold that would allow it to establish a significant presence here. These days, the market is saturated with slots and other gaming options, especially with the opening of Hollywood Casino on the Kansas side last year.
Commitment to Commerce
Reaches New Heights
Then: Technology, pending deregulation and mergers and acquisitions are forcing banks of all sizes to react to market conditions. Greater efficiencies and improved products and services are the ultimate goal of the banks as they expand into other areas of financial services. Kansas City area banks are in a state of flux: Whether they’re one of the largest in the nation or smallest in the region. The future is anything but certain.
Now: Virtually every word in that assessment 15 years ago rings true today, save one: “deregulation.” Thanks to Dodd-Frank and other congressional intervention, bankers and other financial services today are more regulated than ever. And getting more so every day.
Kansas City’s Dream Team
Plans the Future for 2050
Then: From a gathering of 14 people with widely diverse geographic, cultural and business-sector backgrounds came a vision of Kansas City in 2050. Among it’s pillars: A. “Kansas City has the strongest suburbs in the country . . . and for this reason may likely never emulate
the strong urban cores of Boston or Philadelphia.
B. “Future economic development and infrastructure demands will be managed by establishing a regional authority that will likely dissolve the influence of city and state government as we know it today. C. “By 2050,
we anticipate that government will become more intrusive in health care, if not providing the means, then certainly regulating the distribution of service for equality’s sake. D. “The impact of freight moving through the marketplace will be immense.” E. The more it is analyzed, the more logical it appears that a metropolitan-wide
Unified Government may prevail in our future.”
Now: It’s a long way to 2050, but take ‘’em one at a time. A: Likely to be true, even with the advent of a streetcar system and expanded rail line. B. We’ve gone exactly backwards, with the economic border war as intense as ever. C. Eerily on-target. D. Also proving prescient. E. Not
a remote chance in any of our lifetimes.
Then: If we pursue the opportunity we have been given, future generations will look back upon Sept. 11, 2001, not as the day when the World Trade Cener collapsed, but as the day when America was reborn. The America (we) recreate will be a different palce. We will not have lost our innocence. We’ll have lost our pettiness. And we will be a better nation because of it.
Now: Color us guilty of naïvete. Within just a few years, the halls of Congress dripped with partisan bile flowing from differences in how to combat the evil of Sept. 11. From those fierce arguments about invading Iraq, a troop surge there and the “good” war in Afghanistan, a platform for division has sprung up that has rendered virtually every public policy initiative in Washington a life-or-death battle. What were we thinking?
Future of the KC School District
Then: On Tuesday, May 23 Ingram’s hosted the 17th of its forums in the Industry Outlook series. The subject was the Kansas City School District. And the atmosphere, as expected, was more charged than any we had seen before. … Never before have so many key people with so much collective knowledge of what is arguably America’s most notorious school district gathered for a public discussion—one that was in turn amusing, unsettling and invigorating.
Now: With more than a decade to reflect on perhaps the most tumultuous two-hour assembly we’ve conducted—on that day or any of more than 100 since—the issues confronting the district then are the same ones we face today: revolving-door leadership, academic underperformance, social factors, accountability concerns and more. Truly, the most memorable, but in some ways, it was the most disconcerting and certainly the most discouraging assembly Ingram’s has ever orchestrated. Dysfunctional sums the district up best.
The Compound Fracture
of Health Care
Then: The problems facing the nation on the health-care front are daunting … The uninsured are no longer the poorest of the poor, not even close. They are often risk-takers, people who choose the things they know they need or people who are unable to qualify for coverage due to the fact they don’t belong to a larger group. The fastest-growing group among the uninsured are those who make $75,000 or more a year.
Now: It’s clear we were paying attention to an intractable problem. The question remains whether this one can be solved from the top, but early indications are that the policy remedies offered for our health-care ills—at least to this point—have been worse than the illness.
Then: Although you may not know it, Kansas City has embarked on the largest Downtown resurgence in more than half a century. Almost everyone knows fragments of this explosion—Kansas City voters clearly got the message when they approved last month’s arena proposal. It’s been hard to miss the discussion of the H&R Block headquarters and the nearby Power & Light District project. One thing’s for certain—the Downtown Kansas City we know today will not look the same as it will in 2008.
Now: That last clause was entirely on the mark. But while today’s Kansas City’s Downtown is indeed world-class in
many respects, it would have been far better to take on such projects with more realistic projections of the costs involved. The financial under-performance of the P&L District is now a $14 million annual burden on this city’s taxpayers. Would we have made the same choices a decade ago if we knew then what we know now?
Sprint Nextel: What it Means
for Sprint and the Rest of Us
Then: Things change. In essence, the recent announcement of the Sprint Nextel merger is a story of two companies changing, scramb-ling to survive against giants. It is also the story of two bright, energetic executives understanding that even when change is imminent, a company still has a choice. It can choose to be the agent of change. Or it can wait around to be
Now: After a couple of tough years at Sprint, that $35 billion deal seemed to suggest stability ahead, as it created the nation’s third-largest wireless cellular tele-
phone company. Not so. The benefit of 20/20 hindsight allows Web sites like Investopedia to categorize it as one of the worst M&A deals ever, largely because the cultures of the two companies didn’t mesh. By 2008, Sprint had written off a whopping $30 billion in one-time charges due to impairment to goodwill.
The Coolest Companies in KC
Then: The coolest companies in Kansas City. Now there’s a topic bound to cause heated debate. Five criteria to quantify cool: Imaginative work environment. Innovative products and services. Innovative employment processes. A sense of team cohesion. Passion and pride among employees. … Cool companies may be difficult to define, but to paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, we know them when we see them. … They are companies with the competitive edge.
Now: Time hasn’t altered our assessment of the cool factor among the companies recognized in that issue—Midwest Research Institute (now MRIGlobal), Teva Neuroscience, Perceptive Software, Dimensional Innovations, Fer-
rellgas, Boulevard Brewing, Children’s Mercy Hospital and the FBI—yes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The thing is, we’re attracting more cool companies as we expand our creative class and appeal to young entrepreneurs.
Bi-State Bio-Mission Converges In the Kansas City Area
Then: Cancer. Childhood obesity. Heart disease. Bioterrorism. These are just some of the ills and evils that companies throughout the Missouri-Kansas region are combating on a daily basis. This combat has necessitated the area’s becoming a growing force in the biotechnology industry. … Kansas City has more than 200 bioscience companies that employ more than 20,000 people.
Now: What we were seeing at that point was a surge in biotech-related growth that flowed from a convergence of positive influences, ranging to Jim and Virginia Stowers’ $2 billion contribution to establish the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, to the presence of a huge share of the world’s companies with animal-health operations here, to research universities nearby, the emerging National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, and K-State’s entry into this market with the Olathe Innovation Campus in 2011.
A Wing and A Prayer
Then: Can Missouri land mega-projects such as the $400 million Bombardier assembly plant? Kansas City, Platte County and the state of Missouri have been down this road before. The region has put itself in a position to land that airplane assembly plant and the roughly 2,100 quality, high-paying jobs that go with it. … In the just-concluded General Assembly session, rural and city lawmakers from all corners of the state came together to approve tax-credit legislation in the House. It’s downright astonishing that business and civic leaders in St. Louis were among the biggest proponents of a project slated for Kansas City.
Now: We. Got. Played. It was pretty clear, when the dust settled, that the Canadian company was using Missouri incentives as leverage for a better deal back home in Montreal. They got it. We didn’t. It was a powerful lesson on the need for economic
development to focus on hitting many sin-
gles and doubles, rather than exerting so much energy swinging for invisible fences.
Then: Cap-and-trade bills. One version is moving through the Senate, one through the House. Each has as its main goal a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Neither, say utility executives and free-market advocates, bodes well for the energy industry—or customers. … The local economy seems particularly vulnerable. The Midwest derives 80-90 percent of its electric power from coal, the chief villain in this morality play.
Now: Lots of policy initiatives in Washington since 2009 didn’t exactly go the way business interests had hoped. This one did. Without the support of key Democrats in coal-producing states, the dreaded cap-and-trade legislation lost its spark and flamed out. But that hasn’t reduced the threat to commerce: Much of what cap-and-trade would have done as codified law is being accomplished piecemeal with executive orders and regulators, coal plants are shutting down, and energy costs indeed are rising.
The Big XII-minus-2 Debacle
Then: How in the wide, wide world of sports does a power football conference like the Big XII, which has had a team in the Bowl Championship Series title game seven times since 2000 (including this year’s!) end up on the edge of extinction? How is it that the athletic programs at Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State, so important to the successes of that same conference and so vital to this region’s sports identity, could be written off as little more than expansion fodder for a second-tier conference?
Now: Those were the right questions to be asking in 2010, for just a year later, the conference bid good-bye to the university of Missouri, a charter member of what would grow into the old Big 8 and then the Big XII. The move to the SEC, as proponents suggested, would allow Mizzou to compete on a national sporting stage; retired Chancellor Brady Deaton deeply believed that MU would be in a better position as an academic research institution, as well by aligning with universities from the Southeast.
Twilight of an Era, or New Dawn?
Then: “If you like your health care, you can keep it.”— President Obama, before passage of federal health-care reforms. Those words from the insurer-in-chief were meant to calm the fears of opponents in the run-up to last year’s vote by Congress that mandated broad changes in America’s health-insurance system. Rhetoric is one thing; the numbers are something altogether different.
Now: That quote started getting a lot of airtime in the fall of 2013, when it became clear that the sales pitch for Obamacare was just a tiny shade less than 100 percent honest. We don’t like to do a lot of chest-thumping at Ingram’s, but we are delighted to say that we were onto the faulty math of the Affordable Care Act a full two years before mainstream media caught on. If only the world had listened …
Welcome to World-Class KC
Then: We like to use that salutation, because we don’t consider it an idle boast.
So we encourage our visitors here for the All-Star Game to engage in what the greater KC region has to offer. And we urge you to come back when you can stay a while longer. Especially if you own a business and are pondering expansion operations in Kansas City.
Now: Major League Baseball’s 2012 All-Star Game was an unqualified success, showcasing to the world the improvements Kansas City has made since the
previous All-Star appearance in 1973.
A Looming Boom
Then: It hasn’t grabbed the big headlines one might imagine, given where the real-estate markets have been over the past half-decade. But something big is going on in the Kansas City area. The statistics bear out that area general contractors, along with architects, designers, sub-contractors and professionals in the trades, have made it through more months of belt-tightening than they’d ever imagined. But for those who’ve survived, it’s time to start ratcheting things back up.
Now: As we came down the back stretch of 2013, that was a bit of across-the-board good news for a battered construction sector in the Kansas City region. With so much of economic growth downstream from construction projects, whether they are for residential work or commercial, industrial and retail means, the collective health of the building trades is a sign that greater economic vitality could be coming to other sectors.