KC region needs game plan to play catch up
The Kansas City Star
When it comes to competing for new jobs and residents, the Kansas City metropolitan area can’t offer beaches, mountains or great weather year round.
For those and other reasons, population growth could be better.
On Sunday, we published research that compared the Kansas City region with 45 others. This area lagged in the middle of the pack in population growth from 2000 to 2010. And the city of Kansas City doesn’t make up as much of the region’s population as it once did, reducing its influence on the area’s future — while diffusing power among multiple suburbs in two states.
The good news: Our region is in better shape than others such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit, which are losing clout and people.
Still, this area needs to try to catch leaders that are attracting so much economic and population growth — regions such as Austin, San Antonio, Charlotte and Nashville.
Some ways to do that:
Promote our new physical assets in the worlds of culture and sports.
In just the last decade, public and/or private funders have built the world-class Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and a large expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; renovated the major league baseball and football stadiums; added Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., and a national-caliber youth soccer complex in Overland Park; and revived Liberty Memorial and the Kansas City Zoo.
These improvements will help attract many newcomers.
Keep improving neighborhoods.
Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach last week noted that his city was one of only a handful across the nation that had made Money magazine’s list of highly rated cities for several years running. One prime reason is that Overland Park offers solid neighborhood services, from plowing snow to paving roads. Currently, Overland Park is expanding its trails system, including a walking path along Metcalf Avenue as part of sprucing up that main thoroughfare.
Other area cities have bulked up neighborhood services, too, led by Olathe, Lee’s Summit and Shawnee.
Kansas City’s key challenge is finding ways to revive desolate urban neighborhoods that have lost residents and businesses. Some good recommendations on this issue need to come from the neighborhood improvement initiative supported by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Think ahead on jobs.
Plans to bring commuter rail to Jackson County — along with the downtown Kansas City streetcar line — could finally upgrade the area’s mass transit system. Both should create new economic investment.
This area also needs to stop doing something: poaching jobs. The state line makes this problem worse than almost anywhere else in America. Both states offer companies incentives to bring jobs over that line, without adding any net new jobs to the region. Both states need to eliminate or reduce public incentives for companies that do that.
Protect and improve the schools.
Johnson County offers excellent public education with the Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe districts. Tax cut plans in Kansas threaten that asset, however, and strong school funding must be maintained. Other districts — from Blue Springs to Liberty to Park Hill on the Missouri side — have passed bond issues giving them top-notch facilities and educational opportunities.
Districts such as Kansas City Public Schools and Hickman Mills must gain ground quickly. Area leaders could do more to promote the high-performing Center, Grandview and Independence districts.
These and other moves are necessary for this area to be more successful. Meeting these immense challenges will require cooperation and wisdom from people who care about the region’s future.