• Jeff Fox: Keys to developing tomorrow's workforce

  • That refrain you’re hearing around town is getting louder: Economic development over the long term is about attracting talent, the young people who will start the next Sprint, Hallmark or Cerner.

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  • That refrain you’re hearing around town is getting louder: Economic development over the long term is about attracting talent, the young people who will start the next Sprint, Hallmark or Cerner.
    And, the thinking goes, the area needs to step up its game.
    “That’s really what it’s about – developing the next-generation workforce,” said Jonathan Knecht, vice president of marketing and creative services of the Kansas City Area Development Council. He was one of two KCADC executives who spoke at last week’s annual meeting of the Blue Springs Economic Development Corp.
    It’s the same theme Independence City Council members heard about from state economic development officials a few weeks ago. Focus on education. Focus on developing talent, they were told. It even ties in with a theme Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders has aired repeatedly in pushing for a commuter rail system – that the young “creative class” looking around the country, even the world, simply expects a city worth looking at to have such services.
    Thus “America’s creative crossroads,” an idea the KCADC and others have embraced as means of harnessing the area’s strengths at what Knecht called “the intersection of artistry and technology.”
    If all that seems indirect, the KCADC points to a couple of examples. Think of Seattle in the 1990s, with the rock ’n’ roll scene that included Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Sound Garden. Microsoft and Starbucks were blooming at about the same time. Think about how those creative energies mix. More recently, consider Austin, Texas, noted for its live music and events such as the South by Southwest festival that mixes music, film and technology. Then look at companies such as Dell.
    “We really think this region is positioned for these (types) of activities,” Knecht said.
    The area, said Tim Cowden, KCADC’s senior vice president of business development, has significant strengths: animal health, advanced energy and manufacturing, technology and I.T., finally, it’s really good at moving products, that is, logistics and distribution.
    “It has been for 160, 170 years,” Cowden said.
    The area also has to adapt to nationwide trends. One is that with baby boomers now retiring in large numbers, the country is looking at a tightening labor market for the next decade or more. Cowden talks to the companies looking to possibly locate in the metro area.
    “The first question is, ‘How are you going to help me attract talent?’” he said.
    Knecht put it this way: The comparatively small number of people coming into the workforce today have be pursued.
    “So economic development today is really a fight for these workers,” he said.
    KCADC is using the stories of area artists and others to update an old theme, that Kansas City has plenty to offer yet also has a relaxed atmosphere and it’s not hard to get from the office (or studio) to the lake (or nightclub). Go to www.thinkkc.com/ for more on that. The hope is to raise the area’s national profile.
    Page 2 of 2 - “No one has a bad idea about the Kansas City area, but no one has a specific image,” Knecht said.
    Cowden said his group’s job is to bring companies to the area it covers – 18 counties in two states with more than 2 million people.
    “To put it very bluntly, it doesn’t matter to us where a deal ends up, whether it’s Blue Springs or Bonner Springs ...” he said.
    But Brien Starner, president of the Blue Springs EDC, said the city is sticking with its development strategies and taking advantage of what the KCADC is doing with the “creative crossroads” and other efforts.
    “We’re taking the assets of the region ... and leveraging them as a gateway to the metro,” he said.
    Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or 816-350-6313. Follow him on Twitter @FoxEJC.

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