Home of Harry Truman. Queen City of the Trails. County seat. Worldwide headquarters of the Community of Christ church. Home of some of the world’s best-tasting water. These are phrases commonly used to describe Independence, and they are accurate.
Our city, the fifth-largest in Missouri, is known for the famous people and world-changing events that determined the course of history. It is a legacy many Independence residents carry not only with pride but with a sense of duty to preserve the qualities and attitudes of those who put Independence on the world map – courage, determination, and hard work. We share a belief that big dreams can come true here because they have come true here.
Three years ago the City Council adopted “Independence For All” to set a clear course of action for our city’s progression over the next five years. The strategic plan was assembled through dozens of conversations with leadership organizations and citizen groups, analyzing thousands of survey results, and revisiting countless plans and programs. We asked ourselves and each other how we could make Independence a nationally-recognized 21st century city while maintaining our unique history and sense of place.
Increasing median income, high-quality jobs and population were deemed necessary to raise the bar for our city. These goals aligned with the regional plan for prosperity, KC Rising, and as the second largest city in Jackson County, we knew if we could advance these three metrics the entire region would benefit. And in under two years, we are well on our way. In July we announced Independence residents now have a median income of $50,000 and our population has grown to 120,000.
Attracting new investment and enhancing quality of life required a hard look at who we are and how we present ourselves to people inside and outside of Independence. To accomplish this strategic goal of Independence For All, the City Council formed a brand steering committee to gather information on perceptions of Independence and develop a campaign that would capture the personality and aesthetics of Independence to unify our storytelling and messaging in a way that is authentic and familiar to every current and potential citizen, visitor and business.
Some of the news was not good. Insiders described Independence as historic and friendly, but also as a city that is run down, trashy, dirty and unsafe. The response of non-residents was equally positive about Truman and history and strongly negative about the perception of safety, crime and aesthetics.
The Independence brand story is one firmly rooted in our unique history. Ours is a place where hundreds of thousands of people came to embark on new adventures or settled to create a community that still embraces small town values, traditions, and the freedom to explore. But building an authentic brand means dealing with the negatives too.
Independence is a big, urban city with big, urban problems. We know the perception of public safety isn’t positive, we’ve seen the conversations in citizen satisfaction surveys, town hall meetings and branding. Solving the problems to make Independence the city it wants to be will require candid conversations with citizens but it will also take out-of-the-box thinking. Today’s public safety needs require hiring more than 30 new police officers and a dozen support personnel at a cost of $3.5 million annually. Revenues fall far short of this figure, and new revenue sources must be developed to provide the safety and security our city deserves and expects.
It will take a community commitment to rebuild confidence that ours is a city worthy of investment. The affection many residents feel for Independence and its character are not adequately reflected in how we have cared for our most basic elements of appearance and safety. If we don’t, who will? The historic figures from our past cannot keep up the fight. It is time for today’s pioneers, our residents, to take up the mantle and move this historic community into the future.