No cavalry is on the way. It’s up to local leaders to do the work of advancing local economies.
That was my read anyway of Chris Kuehl’s talk earlier this month to the Independence Economic Development Council.
“We’re just moving into new eras. We’re moving into new circumstances,” said Kuehl, managing director of Armada Executive Intelligence.
He ran through the familiar list of struggles, such as brick-and-mortar retailers getting hammered by Amazon.
“We know that the era of the department store is just about done because their claim to fame was variety,” he said. Merely buying is out. Experience is in. Think Ikea, he suggested.
A bigger issue – one that needs to be stressed – remains the scarcity of qualified workers.
“That really has been the key for years,” Kuehl said.
Companies are consistently clear on this point, he said. Their biggest problem isn’t taxes, isn’t regulations and isn’t the rules of trade. It’s people.
“We have a chronic problem nationwide with what amounts to wasted energy,” he said.
He said there’s even a significant number of young adult males – presumably living in Mom and Dad’s basement, playing video games – who simply aren’t out there even looking for work and, he joked, have “not seen sunlight in months.”
Kuehl also likes to poke fun at his fellow economists – but says they look good compared with pollsters.
“We’re wrong about 90 percent of the time,” he said. “They’re wrong all the time.”
More seriously, he said that although the U.S. economy “is doing relatively OK,” national data aren’t that helpful because things vary so much region to region.
National data also are thrown off by such things as the number of people working off the books or bartering goods and services, accounting for “the significant size of our gray economy,” he said.
Kansas City is doing well, he said, and he pointed to Wamego, Kansas, which has turned “The Wizard of Oz” – wine, knicknacks, a museum, you name it – into an industry and into jobs. It’s one example among many, he said.
The point is that the game is no longer chasing that one big company, he said. It’s growing what you have.
Invest in people
The best use of your time is coaching and encouraging others, says Mike Brown.
“You may leave this Earth, and you may never know the investment you made in another person,” said Brown, lead pastor at First Bible Baptist Church in Blue Springs and director of ADP Sports. The Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce takes one monthly luncheon a year to focus on non-profits, and Brown offered some suggestions at last week’s event.
ADP Sports offers youth leagues.
“It’s an extension of our church,” said Brown, a former baseball player and coach who was briefly in the Major Leagues and later was the Royals team chaplain.
His presentation focused on questions that non-profit leaders should ask themselves. How do I reach people? How do I pull a volunteer into deeper involvement? How do I push past the same group of people I’m comfortable working with? How do I train my eventual replacement?
“How do you let people know the incredible depth of opportunities that are there?” he said.
It’s important to get people to find talents they don’t yet know they have.
“I think we forget how many people are out there who want to do the work that you do and want to come alongside” and help, he said.
One more thing: Remember why you do what you do.
“I still go out each season,” he said, “and attempt to coach little 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds in baseball …”
-- Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business reporter and editor. Reach him at 816-350-6313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He posts business items and other things on Twitter @FoxEJC.