Ex-Kauffman Foundation leader sure didn't leave his heart in KC
The Kansas City Star
Carl Schramm has local civic boosters seeing red for labeling Kansas City as “America’s least dynamic town — it won’t grow and it won’t shrink.”
Hmmm. Does someone need a Hallmark “get well soon” card?
The online article by Schramm — the chief executive of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for a decade before leaving in early 2012 — can be found at www.fourpercentgrowth.org under the “articles” tab.
The article has been zipping around email inboxes of city and civic officials over the last few days.
And we’ll admit up front: The initial reaction is to be defensive and note, for instance, that Schramm never did seem to become an outspoken leader on behalf of this city, despite heading up its largest philanthropic foundation with nearly $2 billion in assets.
True to his professorial and East Coast roots, Schramm struck some locals as more interested in promoting his own career than making Kansas City the shining home for budding business people.
Ewing Kauffman obviously loved Kansas City. Schramm, not so much.
In his defense, Schramm noted that 65 percent of the foundation’s $60 million to $70 million in annual spending stayed in the Kansas City area. And some civic leaders praised his leadership on entrepreneurship issues.
Here is a sampling of points from the recent article by Schramm, now a professor at Syracuse University:
His criticism of the Power & Light District is that “outsiders” sold city leaders on the idea. Actually, the original vision for a downtown entertainment district came from longtime AMC leader Stan Durwood, who died before it could be realized through a heavily taxpayer-subsidized project led by a Baltimore-based firm.
His “dynamic” quotation does have the ring of truth. Positively, Kansas City is not Detroit, Cleveland nor any other large city that has been losing population and economic capital. It’s also true that — despite the city’s slowly growing population — job expansion hasn’t been strong in recent years compared with other cities during the long economic doldrums. By those definitions, Kansas City actually isn’t a dynamic, fast-changing town. But worst in the nation? C’mon.
Schramm complains that some of Kansas City’s strategies, like those in other cities, are “founded on the implicit belief that outsiders are smarter than native people and the city must attract talent.”
Actually, a healthy mixture of “insiders” and “outsiders” have made a big difference in this city’s history.
Start with Ewing Kauffman, namesake of the foundation Schramm led, who called Kansas City home most of his life. But Joyce Hall was born in Nebraska, making it to Kansas City around age 20. William Rockhill Nelson, born in Indiana, moved to Kansas City and founded The Star when he was almost 40.
Perhaps Schramm best hits the mark when he discusses what makes cities grow.
His conclusion is that a healthy city will expand its employment in good part because it has a major university with an “entrepreneurial culture” that focuses on invention and innovation, aimed at creating new local firms and jobs.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City is striving to do just that. Indeed, Schramm’s article highlights the critical need for civic leaders to help support UMKC’s intention to become a great university.
Already it has a highly promising Innovation Center which, UMKC officials say, helped create 338 jobs and start 25 new businesses in the year ending June 30.
One of the university’s best-known assets — the Henry W. Bloch School of Management — operates a nationally ranked entrepreneurship scholars program designed to help students with business plans and link them to already successful local business leaders.
Looking ahead, the university has proposed a downtown arts campus that would bring more life to downtown while making the school’s cultural programs more attractive to top-flight students.
Those students, of course, could then stay in Kansas City to further enrich our already healthy arts programs. Just like Schramm rightly thinks should happen.