With 18 years of experience within the Kansas City Area Development Council, Tim Cowden is following in the footsteps of Bob Marcusse as he embarks on his new role as CEO of the organization. He sat down with members of KCRAR Commercial this week to outline his team’s priorities for the coming years. Here’s a snippet of that conversation.
On Kansas City’s evolution
“Has there been a better time to be in Kansas City than right now? I’d say no. What is going on right now in KC is absolutely phenomenal. I think what we’re seeing and what we’re a part of is amazing: what’s occurred downtown, what’s occurring in the suburbs, the development, and how Kansas City has really raised itself up on a national and international scale. People are finally acknowledging that this is a tremendous place.
“If there’s one thing I hear a lot, it’s the comment, “We’re too humble.” We need to be more confident in terms of what we’re doing and the greatness occurring in Kansas City. Humility is a virtue sure. We all understand that, but it’s okay to go out and tell our story and brag a bit because we have a lot to brag about.”
On attracting talent
“GM is moving a new product line to Fairfax. Why did they do that? Our talent. That is the first, the middle, and the last question that we’re asked when a company is evaluating Kansas City. Where am I going to find my talent? How am I going to sustain that talent? And how am I going to grow that talent?
“We’ve had a lot of success in this region, but if there’s one thing that’s a limiting factor to our ability to continue to do great things, it’s the availability of talent. It’s tight right now, and that’s why it’s so important that we continue to do things that create a lifestyle and livability across our region that’s conducive to young people.
“TeamKC is an initiative at KCADC to extend the HR functions of Kansas City companies to help attract more people – particularly young people – to Kansas City… They’re fnding the market first where they want to build their career and life, and then they’re looking for companies they want to go. That’s what we see, and what’s what Kansas City has to provide these young people if we’re going to continue to do great things.”
On the border war
“By quirk of geography, we’ve got this state line, and it can divide or unite. But when our clients evaluate Kansas City, they don’t start with Leawood, Wyandotte County, Lee’s Summit or KCMO. They’re looking at the region as a whole and evaluating that labor force, the cost of living, real estate. Our job is to take those lines away and make it easier for those clients to evaluate us. When you think of KCADC, think of us as a sales and marketing team for the region.
“From our perspective, the state line isn’t going anywhere. So how can we use that as an advantage as opposed to a perceived negative? Choice. It’s the one thing consumers crave. So if a company from outside our region is evaluating Kansas City, we can give them two sets of tax treatments and two sets of incentives. Wat truly makes this work is that our communities here understand that they’re competing with the community or state next door. That’s what we’ve always presented and our community partners are aligned with that, and it’s pretty powerful. Unless we get those companies here, it’s moot if they go to Dallas or Oklahoma City. So how can we distinguish ourselves and compete? By controlling the process, we can make it easier and more efficient to select Kansas City than anywhere else. We’ll never lose to our competition in another market based upon process.”
“Over the last three years, my organization has had the best three years in its history. A lot of new companies are coming here, and one in particular really goes to show what Kansas City has become and what it used to be. Sungevity recently relocated from the Bay Area to downtown Kansas City. But when they came into our office, they told us point blank that while we looked good on paper, Kansas City was number eight out of eight markets they were considering. They’re a solar company and couldn’t even sell their products in Kansas or Missouri. But the market really rose up and sold itself through this community, and now, Sungevity is downtown and are going to employ a lot of folks in time. That’s why it’s important for us to build upon this momentum.
“In March, we opened 17 new projects with KCADC. E-commerce is hot right now; Amazon is opening its second facility in town, and another huge facility is out looking for 1 million square feet right now. Ten years ago, we didn’t have any industrial product we could bid forth to Amazon or others. Now we have the product, and it’s just crazy the velocity of deal flow we have going on the industrial side, particularly in regards to e-commerce.
“We need more office space. There’s a move to make that happen, but we don’t have the square footage or quality to really drive deals. Lending requirements are much tougher in regards to speculative development on the office side. That and the talent issue are limiting factors we are looking to address.”