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Kansas City's Economic Future

Creating jobs by replacing government meddling with organic growth

Mayor Mark Funkhouser’s vision for jobs, neighborhoods and Kansas City’s economic future

True economic growth doesn’t come from outside a community; it comes from a community’s heart: its residents, its entrepreneurs, its dreamers, its doers.

As Mayor of Kansas City for 3 ½ years, I’ve laid the groundwork to encourage Kansas City’s small- and medium-size business owners and entrepreneurs to “do” again. I’ve shelved the failed economic policy of “government handout,” and placed a renewed focus on making Kansas City the kind of community where those who do would actually want to settle down here and do it.

It hasn’t been easy, and it has upset the civic shakedown artists who have figured out how to get rich off large government handouts for speculative projects proposed by development lawyers.

As Mayor, I’ve assembled a strong series of initiatives designed, at their heart, to build jobs instead of buildings, to build jobs instead of failing bars and restaurants, to build jobs instead of assembling taxpayer-funded giveaways to fatten the bottom lines of large corporations. It’s been a painful process. It has cost me some friends, hasn’t won me many new ones and made me some flat-out enemies. But it had to be done, for Kansas City is at an economic crossroads.

Our city grew up servicing the farmers who worked the millions of acres of Midwestern farmland surrounding it. It prospered building cars, manufacturing medicines and selling greeting cards. It matured into a metroplex of 2 million with a diversified economy that included government service, construction and engineering, telecommunications, health care and warehousing and distribution.

But over the years, the city where Hallmark, Marion Laboratories, Burns & McDonnell, H&R Block, Cerner, KCP&L and hundreds of other companies large and small got their start lost its way. The city’s civic leadership made a decision – one that was never put in writing, but a decision nonetheless – that buying jobs from out of town was easier than growing them locally.

That decision, and the results that have played out over the last three decades, has not been kind to the heart of the Heart of America. Kansas City lost thousands of jobs. Many of its wealthiest, and some of its middle class, moved to the suburbs, leaving the city with a large percentage of the area’s poorest residents. And an almost obsessive-compulsive focus on Downtown hotels left urban core neighborhoods untended, weakened and, in some areas, decimated by urban flight.

It was truly a bad decision for the entire metropolitan area.

Joyce C. Hall wasn’t attracted to Kansas City 100 years ago by government incentives; he set down roots here because Kansas City seemed like a booming town with potential for post card sales. Ewing Marion Kauffman didn’t form Marion Laboratories with TIF; he formed it grinding up oyster shells in his basement to sell as a calcium supplement. Similar stories can be told about J.C. Nichols, Clinton Burns and Robert McDonnell, William Rockhill Nelson, William T. Kemper and hundreds of others.

I'm the Mayor of Kansas City. But I'm also a capitalist. And I’m also a realist.

Politicians talk about creating jobs all the time, but the cold hard fact is that governments don’t create jobs, markets create jobs. As we've seen over and over again, direct government intervention is never a good plan. For Kansas City to succeed we need to improve our basic product – quality of life. For Kansas City to prosper, we must create the best living and business environment we can, promote it and then get out of the way and let business and neighborhoods grow.

Four years ago, Kansas Citians did something really odd. They elected an auditor to be their Mayor. They hired me for one job – to fix the city's finances – and I did. The city’s finances are now in the best shape they have been in for over 10 years, and this was accomplished in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

In this paper, I’ll talk about that and my other policies and how they have paid off, and how they will continue to pay off for Kansas City.

I have been pushing a homegrown strategy to return Kansas City to its roots, undo damage done by decades of corporate and civic neglect, and to assure that Kansas City remains America’s Most Affordable City, and becomes America’s Best Big City for Business.

Kansas City is at a crossroads.

After experiencing more than two generations of civic neglect, our city is faced with the loss of major employers, state line corporate raiding, vacant office buildings, half-empty hotels, vacant retail space and entire neighborhoods devastated by urban flight and mortgage foreclosures.

Rather than a homogenous community pulling together for mutual success, the metropolitan area that surrounds Kansas City has devolved into dozens of disjointed cities and towns more interested in economically and physically distancing themselves from Kansas City than working together to build a stronger regional economy.

The results of this community dysfunction are just plain ugly.

  • Between 1995 and 2008, employment in the metropolitan area grew at a much slower pace than the rest of the United States, costing the area 17,000 jobs, 5,000 businesses and $6.5 billion in productivity. If Kansas City had grown even at the same rate as the metropolitan area, the city would have 50,000 more jobs today. If it had grown at the same rate as the rest of the U.S., Kansas City would have 70,000 more jobs.
  • The number of jobs in Kansas City has actually dropped since 1970, while the number of jobs in the metropolitan area outside the city has grown by more than 200,000.
  • Kansas City and its suburbs have switched places. Once the home of almost half of the area's jobs, Kansas City has been replaced in that role by its suburbs. Kansas City now is home to less than a quarter of the area's employed residents, and less than a third of the jobs in the region.
  • The metropolitan economic model is broken, and new predatory initiatives to draw businesses from Kansas City are accentuating that broken model. Between 1998 and 2009, the metropolitan area gained more than 20,000 new businesses. Of that total, Kansas City gained only 150 – less than 1 percent.
  • The number of Kansas City residents living below the poverty level continues to grow, peaking at 16.7 percent in 2009. The number of middle- and upper-class families in the city continues to shrink.
  • Metropolitan Kansas City, fixated on high-dollar projects Downtown and glitzy suburban developments elsewhere, has been left without a coordinated regional transit system.
  • The broken economic model goes well beyond jobs, businesses and the welfare of its residents. Despite its smaller population and declining economic resources, Kansas City is responsible for financing most regional amenities, such as the Kansas City Zoo, the Liberty Memorial, Union Station, Bartle Hall and others. As a result, city services are starving and the city’s infrastructure is crumbling.

This unwritten policy of Government-By-Giveaway Economics hasn't hurt only the City of Kansas City. It has left Kansas City a weak metropolitan competitor on the national and global stage.

Without a functional transit network, many young professionals – and entrepreneurs looking for a place to start a business – might well bypass the Kansas City area. In a study released in September 2010 by CEOs for Cities, Kansas City was labeled as No. 9 among cities that are the most traffic-jammed for commuters. The cause? Suburban sprawl.

Individually, cities like Overland Park, Liberty and Lee’s Summit appear to be economically successful as they’re financially bolstered by the latest retail center or corporate move. But lurking below that gleaming surface of success is a festering wound being fed by tax breaks, deferred maintenance of aging infrastructure, heightened civic expectations and the looming end of unbridled growth. Parts of Overland Park and Olathe already are feeling the pain.

The stagnant economic atmosphere spawned by suburban reliance on Kansas City's economic largesse ¬– and displaced city businesses and residents for growth ¬– has left the Kansas City area the antithesis of what was conceived by Ewing Kauffman, whose bequest funded a Foundation dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, the moribund nature of the region's economy led the Brookings Institution to question the area's future in a 2006 report written by Jennifer S. Vey.

"Kansas City's ability to sustain its economic vitality may be in jeopardy. For all its assets, the region's innovation capacity is underdeveloped, undercutting its ability to develop and commercialize the new products, services and processes that increasingly drive economic growth."

Studies have shown for years that tax breaks – the staple of economic devolution in Kansas City – don't work. In fact, in 2004 the Economic Policy Institute issued a warning about tax cuts leading to a reduction in public services – the exact problem Kansas City has been struggling with because of wild-eyed subsidies handed out by City Hall over a decade or so, and the requisite cuts to city services to pay for those subsidies.

"In the end, any jobs that might be gained by cutting taxes can be more than offset by the jobs lost as a result of cuts in public services," wrote the Economic Policy Institute's Robert G. Lynch.

That finding was echoed a year earlier in a study on the use of Tax Increment Financing programs in Kansas City and St. Louis written by Thomas Luce for the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.

"Poorly designed TIF laws are being misused at a time when state and local fiscal pressures require every dollar be spent prudently."

Clearly, giving cash that ends up fattening the bottom line of Fortune 1000 companies or well-heeled developers isn't a good growth strategy. Swinging for the fences while seeking out new large employers hasn't worked for the Kansas City area.

Experience shows us that small business is the heart of America's economy. Small businesses employ just over half of the private-sector workers in the U.S. Our nation was led out of its past two recessions by small business hiring.

Kansas City needs to be a community as friendly to entrepreneurs and small business people as it is to major corporations. Kansas City needs to be a city that works for everyone.

For generations, Kansas City’s economic livelihood has been, at best, taken for granted. As the hub of the metropolitan area, it has been traditionally held by civic, business and government leaders that Kansas City would do well as long as its suburban “spokes” prospered. The spokes would feed the hub; both would grow and prosper.

And for more than a century, from its incorporation as a city in 1853 and even before, that’s exactly what happened. Kansas City became the dominant city in the Heartland of America when innovative community leaders and engineers with vision built the first railroad bridge crossing the Missouri River. The Hannibal bridge connected seven railroads, and secured a railroading legacy that has spanned more than 150 years and continues into the 21st Century.

It was that bridge and the bustling atmosphere that was Kansas City in 1910 that led an 18-year-old kid named Joyce Clyde Hall to start a postcard business in Kansas City. About that same time, the same entrepreneurial spirit led J.C. Nichols to start buying up land for the world's first automobile-oriented shopping center, and led to the opening of the Country Club Plaza in 1923. And it was the same entrepreneurial spirit that drove Neal Patterson, Cliff Illig and Paul Gorup 31 years ago as they sat around a picnic table in Loose Park ¬– not far from Nichols' Plaza – laying out the foundation for Cerner Corp.

Those home-grown success stories are well known. But there are thousands of smaller, strikingly similar, success stories across Kansas City.

Those success stories, played out over the course of more than six generations, resulted in a lengthening of the spokes that surrounded the hub of Kansas City. But the growing suburbs still relied on their hub city for jobs, transportation, shopping and entertainment.

In the last half of the 20th Century, long-overdue social reform threw the wheel far out of alignment. The change was gradual in places, quite sudden in others. But either way, middle-class families voted with their feet, leaving the urban core for the suburbs at the rate of one family every 12 hours. Major businesses moving into the metropolitan area barely considered locating within the Kansas City limits. Those already in the city and planning expansion often planned that expansion outside the city limits, following those middle-class families.

By the turn of the 21st Century, one thing was clear – the heart of America’s Heartland was in trouble. The city's population was dropping, and job growth was flat. Outside the city limits, population and job growth was booming.

Kansas City
1980 population: 448,028
1980 jobs: 306,679
2000 population: 441,545
2000 jobs: 310,667
Rest of Kansas City MSA
1980 population: 984,972
1980 jobs: 366,073
2000 population: 1,328,034
2000 Jobs: 605,346

While at best Kansas City’s economy suffered from being taken for granted, at worst it was torpedoed by neighboring communities with competing interests. Kansas City’s civic, business and government leaders watched clueless from the sidelines as that subtle attack took place below the surface of public perception.

Two generations of benign neglect – or worse, calculated civic attack with no regard to consequences – cost the city tens of thousands of jobs, tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue, and tens of billions of dollars in lost salaries.

For decades, as the urban core suffered, as city infrastructure crumbled, high-profile projects dominated the public discussion.

How can we save Downtown? Well, that’s simple! What Kansas City needs is a new convention hotel! While that’s the ongoing discussion in 2010 among some in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and some City Council members, in this case the year was 1982.

The then Vista International Hotel, which was built in part with a $10 million federal grant, was pitched as the project that would save Downtown Kansas City. It didn’t. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Main and Grand in Downtown Kansas City – save a few nights a year when a major convention actually was in town – were the proverbial boulevards of broken dreams. And those boulevards remained a disappointment despite subsidies in the ‘90s that increased the number of Downtown hotel rooms by more than 1,000.

So while the Vista was one of the first in a long line of government-financed or aided projects designed to “save Downtown,” it was far from unique. As time has shown us, high-profile projects offered a low – and sometimes a no – return rate for the community.

There is no debate that the civic fixation on Downtown did result in some successful economic battles. The H. Roe Bartle Hall expansion, and the new Bartle Hall Ballroom, converted that facility into one of the Midwest’s pre-eminent convention centers. The renovation of Union Station saved one of the nation’s most historic train stations, while the renovation of Liberty Memorial restored the nation’s World War I Memorial. The construction of the Sprint Center resulted in one of the world’s finest indoor arenas.

But, while civic leaders focused on one high-profile project after another to save Downtown – winning some battles and losing others – Kansas City lost the war.

Kansas City’s suburban neighbors grew from complacent suburbs reliant on the “big city” into cities in their own right. They began competing head-on with Kansas City for residents, businesses, industries and corporate headquarters. With the advantage of wide-open spaces and lower taxes made possible by rampant and uncontrolled growth, they generally won.

Accelerating Kansas City’s problem, in December 2007 the U.S. economy collapsed into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Like other cities across the nation, Kansas City faced an unprecedented challenge: income, sales and property taxes collapsed simultaneously.

But unlike other cities, Kansas City was – and continues to be – in a unique position. And it's not an enviable one.

Over the years, the metropolitan population has grown to almost 2 million people. That population straddles the state line, and almost all of that population growth occurred outside the city limits. As suburban population growth slowed in the first decade of the new century and an increasingly sluggish economy stifled growth in hungry suburbs reliant on tax dollar growth, they looked to Kansas City to again supply their needs – this time their need to fill vacant office space and new homes built in a time of uncontrolled growth.

Kansas City became a smorgasbord for these suburbs hungry to keep tax dollars flowing as the economy collapsed. What had been an informal economic competition between Kansas City and its suburbs became a dangerous game of hunter-prey when Kansas made economic poaching the official state sport with the passage of its Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) legislation. This legislation provided massive subsidies to companies to move a few miles across the state line from Missouri to Kansas. Kansas City lost more businesses.

It was a policy either sparked by concerns that the state’s growth was slowing – or stopping entirely – or by pure greed.

"Substantial employment growth on the Kansas side is closing the gap between numbers of jobs on the two sides of the state line, with Kansas' share of the MSA's total employment increasing from 38 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2007," Bureau of Labor analysts wrote in 2009.

On a parallel course, Kansas City’s infrastructure – like its economy – had suffered 40 years of neglect. The city was left with thousands of vacant homes, thousands of vacant lots and $13 billion worth of needed infrastructure repairs. Kansas City’s sewer system was in such disrepair that each year it dumped – and continues to dump – six billion gallons of raw, untreated sewage into streams and rivers, including the Missouri River.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

Clearly, outdated economic development tools designed for a manufacturing-based economy, old-style planning and a head-in-the-sand attitude failed Kansas City.

Bribing business owners to move to our city? That didn’t work.

Pledging the city’s credit for glitzy Downtown bars and restaurants? Another loser. But it did end up costing Kansas City taxpayers as much as $20 million a year – without adding to the city’s revenue stream. Relying on a regionally focused Chamber of Commerce which represents and advocates for a number of large cities in the region, not just Kansas City? That hasn’t worked.

Counting on banks and traditional financing for urban-core projects? That hasn’t worked.

Old-style economic development hasn’t worked. While city leaders spent money like drunken sailors on leave as they looked for an economic home run, the city’s 480,000 residents and the neighborhoods they lived in were ignored.

In short, the only people who succeed, who prosper, from “top-down development” are those at the top.

It has been clear for some time that Kansas City’s economic renaissance will have to come from the bottom up. As it did in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Kansas City’s economy needs to grow block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. If we want Kansas City to survive, we have to give residents – current and potential residents – the opportunity for a safe, affordable, comfortable place to live. Jobs follow residents.

Just ask our competitors in Leawood, Overland Park or Lee’s Summit.

What drives the growth of a city? How do we convince business owners to build or grow here? How do we attract the skilled workforce to staff those businesses? The quick, but complex answer: by resolving crime, education and neighborhood issues, while adding the amenities expected of a big, evolving, thriving city.

Everything I have done since being elected has been focused toward that end. I took this job with one overriding understanding: Kansas City was broken. Kansas City didn’t work as well as its residents deserved.

Kansas City needs to be A City that Works
When I took office, one of my first actions was to begin to change the culture of government. Kansas City needs to be A City That Works. City Hall should be a customer-friendly place – customer friendly to our residents, customer friendly to our businesses, customer friendly to prospective businesses and residents. In three years, we’ve made some progress. The city’s streets are in better shape, trash is picked up on time; our surveys show us that, in general, our residents are more satisfied with city services than they have been in some time.

A new business-friendly office sits outside City Hall to help prospective and current business owners. During regular Town Hall meetings with city employees, I push for them to embrace a customer-centric attitude. It hasn’t been easy, and we’re not done yet.

The challenge to make Kansas City operate like a traditional business fighting for customers – which is exactly what it is – came in the face of a second significant challenge. With a city budget out of kilter, the city’s financial spreadsheets needed a major overhaul.

In 2007, Kansas City municipal government was on the brink of an economic tragedy. Previous city leaders pledged the city’s credit – as well as the tax dollars of the next generation of the city’s residents – granting over $2 billion in tax abatement to more than 50 Tax Increment Financing plans and more than $550 million in economic development bonds backed by the city’s General Fund.

Over the last three years, the city’s budget has been stabilized, and currently – despite the economic recession – the budget is in the best shape that it has been in for more than a decade. In the last year in particular, the city manager and the city staff have brought professionalism to the city budget process.

Being smart with the money has resulted in a significant payoff for Kansas City. The city’s credit rating is stable, its cash balance has doubled and its pension funds are well funded.

Sadly, some of that progress has come off the backs of city employees. To maintain a structurally balanced budget, the city has been forced to eliminate more than 500 jobs. Current employees are being forced to work longer hours and do double duty, and they haven’t received a raise in two years.

Those massive cuts have slowed progress on my A City That Works Initiative, but it hasn’t stopped. In 2011, I plan to push major changes to the city’s Web site, kcmo.org, to make it easier for residents to do business online with the city, to learn more about their city, and to pitch Kansas City as America’s Most Affordable City to those who are considering a move.

I also plan to continue changes in licensing and tax collection to make it easier for companies to do business with the city. And I have been pushing for changes within City Hall to make it a helpful place, something of a full-service incubator for entrepreneurs and prospective businesses. We want to make Kansas City a city where it’s easy to do business.

Such changes are crucial. While we can't do much to lure new businesses to locate in Kansas City, we can drive existing businesses away.

To promote Kansas City and its business community, Kansas City needs a Kansas City Chamber of Commerce focused on promoting Kansas City and promoting job growth in Kansas City – not a regional chamber selling out the hub of the metropolitan area as it promotes wealthier member cities in the suburbs And part of that business-friendly attitude must include tax reform.

In November, voters let us know they wanted a stronger voice in how they are taxed, approving Proposition A both statewide and in Kansas City. As a result of that vote, Kansas must ask city voters every five years to renew the 1 percent earnings tax. The first such vote is scheduled for April 2011.

Whatever the outcome of that vote, Kansas City needs to look at comprehensive tax reform. The earnings tax is not popular with business owners, and it is not popular with employees. We must consider modernizing the way the city collects revenue.

We've started that rebuilding with Schools First
Like city government, like city business, neighborhoods can be brought back organically, from the bottom up. Traditionally, the most successful neighborhoods have been built around schools. That was certainly the case in Kansas City for generations. That is the case in all cities. Social change handled poorly upset that balance, especially in Kansas City.

We couldn’t return to the 1950s even if we wanted to. But we can build something that is better for the 21st century.

Schools First is designed to rebuild and restore the sidewalks, streets and crossings near Kansas City’s more than 190 schools, to focus city services near those schools, and to look for ways for our schools to become the center of their community, anchors of safety for the neighborhood.

Numerous studies have shown that adding police to neighborhoods is one of the best economic development incentives a community can invest in, with a payoff of up to 500 percent. Coupled with neighborhood improvement, it’s a proven winning strategy.

Not unlike the successful anti-crime, pro-neighborhood initiative called Broken Windows in New York City and Safe Streets in Albuquerque, or similar programs in Lowell, Mass. and the Netherlands, Schools First relies on neighborhood improvements and better police protection to make the 50-block area around all Kansas City schools a better, safer place to live.

There is a lot of work to do to make Kansas City a safer, better place to live. But what better place to start in the effort to restore Kansas City than those places our young people pass by each day?

These new educational anchors of safety will become the economic foundation for organic neighborhood growth. Residents will flock to safe neighborhoods with inexpensive homes and solid schools. Retail businesses will follow those residents. New jobs will follow new business. And each 50-block area will spill over, leading to improvements in a larger section of the city.

We need New Tools to tackle new problems
Neighborhoods are crucial to Kansas City's future. As a city, we have a lot of new problems in old neighborhoods.

New Tools for Economic Development is another bottom-up initiative that addresses the community’s needs in a holistic manner. It focuses on individuals, neighborhoods and basic services.

Over the course of a nine-month period, the community within the most distressed area of Kansas City came together to define a vision for themselves, to identify the tools needed to achieve that vision and the means with which to achieve their vision. The development process itself was a success…a new process, a new way of thinking about community development which has been called “WeDevelopment.”

New Tools is not a program, but an ongoing process for community engagement, community vision, and strategic planning designed to transform communities from distress to success. Today, various individuals and groups are working on the projects that were identified from the process, such as acquiring vacant lots for use as community property, establishing urban agriculture businesses, and forming a community development credit union.

“The degree to which we can impact our most distressed areas, is the degree to which we can improve the quality of life and prosperity of the entire region.” Ajamu Webster, Mayor's New Tools Report, 2009

Zone 2-7, the forgotten Zip Code
In Kansas City, many neighborhoods have been neglected for decades. Zip Code 64127 is among the most forgotten by the city and the community.

Zone 2-7: Anchor of Hope is a plan to bring hope and organic economic growth to this important area in the core of our city. At the same time, Zone 2-7 promises to bring social change that could sweep through the city.

Modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, designed to fight poverty through education and a change in the community’s culture, Zone 2-7 will nurture a generation of new, well-educated citizens and lead to bottom-up neighborhood improvement. As neighborhood residents regain hope, as neighborhood residents again begin caring about their community, businesses will follow.

Currently, we’re seeking grants and private donors for this work in progress.

The Heartland as international port
While many of the other initiatives I’ve discussed are organic in nature and will take time to grow, there is one that could happen literally overnight by capitalizing on Kansas City’s significant existing assets.

Kansas City may not have spring-fed lakes, snow-capped mountains or be on the ocean, but it does have one key strategic feature: it’s in the center of the country and its inland port – and Kansas City was the first city to have an inland port – has easy and inexpensive access to world markets. It’s time to do some marketing on that theme, get out of the way and let Kansas City businesses prosper using that strategic advantage.

Today, U.S. exports and importers are slowed by overcrowded ocean ports, often creating a gridlock situation for both importers and exporters. Almost 29 million shipping containers passed through U.S. ports in 2009, and containers entering the country languished on docks for an average of seven days.

Kansas City, sitting in the center of a vast transportation network, could reduce shipping times and costs by as much as 15 percent.

We have the nation’s second-largest rail hub behind Chicago. By tonnage, we are the largest rail center in the United States. We are the only city in the United States located at the intersection of three of the nation’s major interstate highways (I-35, I-70, I-29), connecting the East Coast and the West Coast, and Mexico and Canada.

Kansas City is a member of the North America SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO). Spanning almost 2,500 miles through the central United States, eastern and central Canada, and deep into Mexico, the NASCO trade corridor is a multi-modal transportation network that connects 71 million people and supports a large part of the commerce between the three nations.

Our city has a Foreign Trade Zone that encompasses more than 10,000 acres, larger than any other U.S. city. And Kansas City has built the Lazaro Cardenas-to-Kansas City Transportation Corridor, which connects key Asia-Pacific markets to Kansas City and the Midwest through Lazaro Cardenas, a deep sea port on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Our inland port connection is made by a 1,300 mile railroad (called NAFTA Railway) owned by the Kansas City Southern Railway Company. This corridor streamlines shipments from Asia to North America and cuts the time and labor costs by about 15 percent versus shipping through the congested ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles on the West Coast.

The Kansas City Port Authority should play a major role in our global strategy.

The Port Authority is the agency tasked to work with CenterPoint Properties of Chicago to redevelop the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force base into Kansas City SmartPort, linking Kansas City and the rest of the U.S. with Lazaro Cardenas. The intermodal truck-rail-ship transport system can export goods from the U.S. two weeks faster than ports on the East and West coasts.

Kansas City and the rest of the U.S. with Lazaro Cardenas. The intermodal truck-rail-ship transport system can export goods from the U.S. two weeks faster than ports on the East and West coasts. As a city, we need to sell more stuff. We need to sell more stuff to Denver. We need to sell more stuff to Shanghai. We need trade to develop jobs.

All of these initiatives represent a different kind of “going green” to create jobs while strengthening our community.

Succeeding for Kansas City will mean building from the ground up; developing jobs where none existed before rather than rolling the dice and spending millions hoping to steal them from neighboring communities or cities halfway across the country. While Kansas City's top 10 employers are dominated by government and the health care industry, as I’ve noted, the region's most successful private businesses started here and grew up here.

Reproducing that type of success is a major undertaking. A simple Band-Aid approach – government giveaways like TIFs – won’t do it. This job will take time, patience, and a significant struggle. We're changing the way Kansas City does business, how money is distributed, how government interacts with business leaders. The well-connected few with the most to lose will be the most vocal and fight the hardest. It's not going to be pretty, but the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that made Kansas City America's most livable city will help it also become America's Best City for Business.

In the 1990s, and throughout the last decade, Kansas City civic leaders wanted our city to take on the trappings of being a “major league” city – a place people from Prairie Village, people from New York City, people from London, want to visit. But what they forgot is that Kansas City, first and foremost, has to be a place where people want to live.

For more than two generations, Kansas City has allowed itself to be economically abused by the rest of the metropolitan area. As such, the city has not been a good partner for the metropolitan area. Kansas City failed to provide leadership at a time when the region was growing quickly and needed leadership the most.

That failure sparked another. As a city, we failed to cover the basics; we failed our residents.

As Mayor, I have put an end to the unwritten policy of profiteering off of the City of Kansas City. Like a passenger on an airplane in trouble, Kansas City must worry about securing its own oxygen mask before helping out those nearby.

This is not anti-regionalism. As Mayor of Kansas City, I’m not against regional growth. But I am pro Kansas City. Kansas City can’t afford to shoulder the load for its much wealthier neighboring cities any longer.

And that leads us back to the symbiotic nature of the hub and its spokes. Like a child who has grown up and now takes care of an aging parent, the relationship between Kansas City and its suburban cities has shifted 180 degrees. Now, it must shift back.

At one time, Kansas City controlled the region’s economy and the purse strings for much of the metropolitan area. Those days are gone. Today, regional projects – whether it’s a rail system, a sports stadium or a new Downtown hotel – must be paid for by the entire region.

In Kansas City, it’s time to take care of our streets, our community’s safety….it’s time to take care of our families. The rest will take care of itself.

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