With high school seniors graduating every year from our local schools, economic development takes on particular importance in assuring a viable future for our students. Are they equipped for the modern workforce? As a community we have helped address that with the Academies of ISD and other initiatives at Fort Osage and Blue Springs, all of whom serve Independence students. But then what? Will they be able find jobs locally?
In 2015, as chairman of the Independence Chamber of Commerce, I assembled what we called the Economic Development Summit group. Approaching each of the major stakeholders in the area, I asked one simple question. That was, “Can we work together on issues that will make substantial positive impact on the lives of residents of Independence?”
Our community’s large employers, the professional staff of both the Council for Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce, the chairs of both those organizations, the school district, the paid professionals in the city of Independence, as well as political leadership all said, “Yes.” One key question we asked ourselves was, what do we need to do to prepare for the first four-year graduates of the ISD Academies in finding jobs locally? If we solved that, it would also help students of each of the other school districts.
It turned out that impacting economic development was a tough nut to crack. The one issue that rose to the top over and over again was the complete lack of industrial capacity, with no space available for companies to bring jobs to town. Of course, here and there we had wins. And we’ve continued to see incremental improvements. But a BIG win has eluded us. Enter the VanTrust development in the eastern valley, sometimes known as Project W. That project would entail a new industrial/business park, with associated benefits to the local economy.
The city of Independence has worked hard on working out smart incentives. We need and want to compete with other local municipalities, without breaking the bank here at home. I have the privilege of serving on the city’s TIF Commission and the newly formed Economic Development Incentive Commission. We passed the incentive package unanimously for the VanTrust proposal because it’s good for Independence. It brings jobs and much-needed economic activity.
Is there a better spot for the project? Will it do what we hope? Would something “better” come along later if we pass on this remarkable opportunity? Knowing the answers to those questions would require a crystal ball. And we don’t have one. And I know that there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the project. In balance though, in light of all the above, I support the project and I urge the Independence City Council to approve it and go forward.
Brad Speaks is a local business owner, past chair of the Chamber of Commerce and member of the Management Committee for the Council for Economic Development. He was the founding pastor of Open Arms Community of Christ and lives in Independence with his wife of 33 years.