KC region's employment growth has been deplorable
The Kansas City Star
Former Kauffman Foundation CEO Carl Schramm recently wrote that Kansas City is “America’s least dynamic town — it won’t grow and it won’t shrink.”
He added that “the most reliable measure of a city’s future health is whether employment is expanding or contracting.”
Schramm’s words angered many of this area’s civic elites and politicians.
But emotions aside, statistics show his damning comment was more right than wrong.
This region’s employment growth the past 10 years has been weak.
Growth the past three years has been downright distressing.
Don’t pin all the blame on bad old Kansas City, either. The employment data below include Johnson County cities as well as other growth areas in Platte and Clay counties.
This week I reviewed hundreds of figures from the last decade for the Kansas City region and 17 others.
Ten are considered our Midwestern benchmarks. Seven other areas have been visited as part of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s leadership exchange program, designed to teach lessons on how to improve our region. Officials returned Tuesday from Austin, the latest site.
The Kansas City area was a feeble 11th in percentage growth in total nonfarm employment from July of 2002 to July of 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Austin (up 24.4 percent) was the leader, followed by Fort Worth, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Seattle, Charlotte, Omaha, Denver, Indianapolis, Tulsa, Kansas City (up 3.1 percent), San Diego, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Memphis, St. Louis and Milwaukee (down 3.7 percent).
The Kansas City region was a shameful 16th in employment growth from July of 2009 to July 2012, from the bottom of the economic downturn to a healthier period now.
Austin (up 7.9 percent), Nashville, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Denver, Charlotte, Seattle, Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Omaha, Tulsa, Memphis, Kansas City (up .5 percent), Milwaukee and St. Louis (up .4 percent).
Combining both sets of statistics, the healthiest four regions are Austin, Nashville, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.
The four weakest are St. Louis, Milwaukee, Memphis and Kansas City.
These worrisome numbers are a big challenge - and nasty wake-up call - for people and organizations who play large roles in increasing employment for this area.
At the top of the list are the board of directors for the Kansas City Area Development Council and longtime CEO Bob Marcusse; the board of directors for Kansas City’s Economic Development Corp. and new CEO Pete Fullerton; the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and CEO Jim Heeter; and business executives on the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City.
The list of responsible parties also includes elected officials such as Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Their Missouri-side counterparts include Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Gov. Jay Nixon.
This region’s economically destructive border war is part of the problem; poaching companies in both states has created few net new jobs at a big cost to taxpayers.
While the University of Missouri-Kansas City is improving, it doesn’t yet have enough private or public funds to make it outstanding beyond a few select departments.
This region has to get much better at attracting outsiders to step up and invest here.
The chamber’s “Big 5” effort aimed at helping to create jobs is a start. So is an emerging bid to boost start-ups by entrepreneurs.
Still, this region needs much more dynamic leadership at its many eco-devo agencies. It needs better cooperation among politicians to woo private investment. Other metro areas have ramped up their games. We must stop lagging behind.
To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT.