Independence Mayor Eileen Weir and City Manager Zach Walker have each offered state-of-the-city speeches in recent weeks, highlighting successes and acknowledging issues that need to be addressed.

Weir keyed on two things – achieving the goal of raising the city’s median household income to $50,000 and, the city says, reaching a population of 120,000.

“Our city is growing and changing,” the mayor said.

Walker says the city has stabilized its finances and added significantly to its reserves. The city found the money to add a handful of police officers – more are needed, for sure – and create a street-crimes unit. There’s even an “Independence on a Roll Working Group.” The city is well into its Independence For All plan, a long to-do list for City Hall.

But Walker also stressed some significant challenges, and what stood out was a comparison of two ZIP codes and how investment and jobs shape a community,

The ZIP codes are 64053 in the city’s northwest corner and 64057 on the east side, basically east of Missouri 291 between Truman Road and I-70.

The numbers illustrate striking disparities: A median income of $61,000 a year in 64057 compared with $33,000 in 64053. Average home value – $203,000 compared with $88,000. Owner-occupied homes – 58 percent compared with 45 percent. Unemployment – 2 percent against 8 percent.

And this: a life expectancy of 80.4 in 64057 compared with 70 in 64053 and 78.7 nationally.

“We are not an Independence for all until we substantially close this gap,” Walker said.

Quick hits

Taco Bell is coming to Grain Valley. The city recently gave its approval for a site northeast of Interstate 70 and Buckner-Tarsney Road, the area where businesses have been clustering. It’s expected to open by the end of the year. … Five Guys, known for its hamburgers and milkshakes, has opened at 4140 S. Noland Road in Independence. The company, based in Lorton, Va., says it has nearly 1,600 locations worldwide. This is its 13th in the Kansas City area.

Making KC special

Kansas City Area Development Council is working on what it calls a new “shared regional brand platform” – that is, one of the area’s ways in which it presents itself to the companies and workers around the world.

The group, which serves a 20-county area, traditionally has focused on catching the big fish: corporate headquarters, assembly plants, biotech and warehouses of more than 1 million square feet. Increasing, said Chief Marketing Officer Martin Mini, it’s also focusing on attracting talent – the workers who make things happen – to the area. That race for talent is increasingly crucial, he said.

“A lot of activity, frankly, is centered around workforce,” added Jonathan Knecht, creative director and vice president of marketing.

KCADC officials talked with several dozen people at Tuesday’s Grain Valley Partnership monthly luncheon. They are on a listening tour for the branding question. They stress that their work isn’t meant to replace or crowd out local branding efforts.

Mini led the luncheon group in a lightning round of questions. What are our strengths? Answers included good schools, that this is a “big small town,” no significant traffic problems, the low cost of buying a home, barbecue, the Chiefs, and good old Midwestern hard work, friendliness and trustworthiness. Challenges? Crime, that maybe some of the shine has come off the Plaza, and, probably, a lingering cowtown image.

“Are people still confused about what state we’re in,” he asked? Uh, yes.

Mini said areas such as New York and Los Angeles are losing people and cities such as Austin, Denver, Portland and Nashville are gaining. Much of that is simply about livability. Kansas City is gaining, too, but not as rapidly.

Still, Mini sees opportunity, especially as a fair number of young people leave places like Kansas City for the coasts but grow weary of it and sometimes find living there just isn’t affordable. They come home.

“It’s definitely a phenomenon that’s happening,” Mini said.

Look for a new branding platform this fall.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or He’s on Twitter at @FoxEJC.