After spending the last 17 years of her career with the Kansas City Area Development Council, Jill McCarthy has now been named senior executive of corporate attraction. We sat down with her to discuss how her career has taken her to new heights and what new initiatives the organization is pursuing to help attract more business to the Kansas City area.
ON HER CAREER
“When I first moved here, I accepted a job with the City of Shawnee as an economic developer. I knew nothing, but was blessed to be in Kansas City with this great group of economic development professionals – Blake Schreck, Tom Riederer, John Engelmann, Charley Vogt, Mark Dawson. Everyday, I’d call up someone and say ‘This is what I’m looking at. What can I do?’ I felt like I was on the ground training from some of the best in the business. Six years in, Steve Johnson – who led economic development business attraction team for KCADC – said they were creating a position and asked if I wanted to throw my hat in the ring… Now I’ve been here almost 18 years working in business attraction, whether that’s project development, working with companies, working with our local economic developers, and relationship building with our consultants. It really is a people business; It’s about putting the right people at the table at the right time. Some of it is intuitive, while other parts are very detail oriented. You have to really manage a project from beginning to end. You have to be a good listener so you understand what the goals of the client team are, and match those goals with a Kansas City regional success.”
KCADC’S NEWEST GOALS
“We’ve relied heavily in the past on consultants – real estate advisors, accounting firms, a law firm, a boutique site location consultant – anyone advising clients on where to look in the U.S. for expansion, relocation, or even those that are downsizing and looking for a more affordable market. We’ve had great success at it, but we feel like we’ve relied upon that very heavily and that maybe this is an opportunity to add more value, so we’re doing two things:
“First, we’re contracting with a couple of organizations that will go direct to companies and start a conversation. For example, if an e-commerce company based in Virginia has a headquarters and a manufacturing facility there, but maybe they don’t have a distribution center west of the Mississippi, that’s a prime target for us. We need to start a conversation with them. It doesn’t mean they’re going to put an 800,000-square-foot e-commerce center in Kansas City this year, but it does mean that we’re then on their radar, they understand who we are, and as they get ready to make a move like that, we should be at the top of their list. We’re doing some things in some sectors like manufacturing, data centers, IT, e-commerce, and shared service centers. They all have different triggers, so we’re in the process right now of defining those triggers to make that an effective campaign for us.
“Secondly, Tim and I have always been generalists and have shared a big bulk of the projects we’re working on. And Chris [Gutierrez] with SmartPort has always led our logistics and distribution. We’ve tag-teamed lot of automotive/manufacturing projects, and Kim [Young] has led all of our Animal Health and Bioscience. But since we’re putting more projects into the pipeline and creating more work, we need more project people – but we don’t necessarily want to add staff. So we’re looking at four members of our team that will be taking on project work specifically and are in the process of training them. We have a very systematic, client-driven approach. Certainly the client’s needs rise above all else so we’re there to advocate for them, but to also make the best deal possible for the region. A deal that’s good for a client but isn’t good for a community is a bad deal, and we don’t ever want to be a part of that. It’s our job to make sure everyone understands what the benefits are – both ways.”
HOW THE REAL ESTATE COMMUNITY CAN HELP
“On the real estate side, industrial and distribution has done a phenomenal job of spec build. Last year I think about 8 million square feet of spec build – and it filled. And we’re on pace to do the same thing this year. It is a mentality of ‘Build it and they will come.’ You’re seeing growth all around the metro to that effect; It’s not in one park or one location – it really is region wide. With manufacturing, it’s harder because a manufacturing building is much more expensive than a logistics building. It’s heavier floor, heavier power, so most developers will not build spec manufacturing or spec data centers; Those things that have tremendous cost. But we don’t have a lot of available product, and that is a challenge for us. We’re working on the data center side with a couple of national firms that are looking at Kansas City for an opportunity to build more of a data center park, and it’d build segmented at a time. If we’re able to capture that, it’d be all new build but it’d be a systematic build. That’s one way of doing it. On the office side, we do have office product around town. We don’t have tremendous vacancies but at the same time we do have the ability to showcase anything from the Northland to far south to west to east. So that’s an asset for us right now. There’s also talk about some developers about spec office build, and we’ll see if that kicks off. Anytime there’s new build going up it gives us more product to talk about.”
ON KANSAS CITY’S WEAKNESSES
“There are a few challenging points when it comes to selling Kansas City, some of which you can’t change because you are what you are. The product is what the product is, and I think we’ve always hung our hat on process and being able to control the process and build relationships; That’s what has made the difference for us. But occasionally, we’ll work on a project where it may be a 1,200-person shared service center, and it may come down to us versus Dallas. Well, Dallas has an 8 million population while we’re just over 2 million. And while unemployment may be 4 percent in Dallas, it’s 3.8 percent here and things are tight. In Dallas, they may just have more numbers to pull from.
“Additionally, companies have one of two minds: they either want to locate near similar companies so they can all benefit from training programs in the area and talent and all of those things that are inherent to the cluster effect, or I’d rather be a big fish somewhere else where no one else is doing what I’m doing. Sometimes we benefit from one; sometimes we benefit from the other. You can lose on either one of those as well.
“I personally would love to see a new airport. The face of our city often is the airport, and it’s does not have the curb appeal that it should. That does occasionally work against us. But that’s my personal opinion.”
KANSAS CITY’S SELLING POINTS
There are a million selling points. Certainly central time zone, excellent work ethic, and a very talented workforce. There’s just a vibe going on in Kansas City that people see. It doesn’t hurt when you win a World Series. It doesn’t hurt that the Chiefs made it to the playoffs. Sporting KC is strong. We have a lot of things going right now: the strength of our museums, our amazing philanthropic community. Young professionals can also get engaged in boards and start making a difference. There’s an opportunity to impact your community at age 25 where you’re 45 maybe to get on a board and 55 to get a board seat. You’re always waiting to do something that creates value where you live. That really adds to the vibe for Kansas City.
OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
I’m a bit of an arts and sports nut. I have season tickets to Starlight, the Balllet, the Theater League, the KC Rep. I’m a member of the Nelson, Union Station, the Arboretum of Overland Park. We also take in a ton of Royals games, and my husband coaches wrestling. In fact, this week the Big 12 wrestling championships are here in Kansas City and I’m a team lead for that, so I’ll be pretty well embedded into the world of wrestling. We do a lot of fundraising for the world of wrestling and I love dogs. Our son went to school at St Thomas Aquinas, graduated and went to West Pointe. He graduated a few years ago so we’re following him around the world as he goes.
“I’m extremely passionate about what I do. Love my job and the people I work with. I feel blessed to work with top notch organizations around KC that support KCADC. I think everyone really buys into the mission of what we’re doing and supports us. There are so many members of or even just members of our investor community that I can call up, and they may or may not get anything out of the project but I can ask them to come to a dinner, talk to a client, and they always say yes. No one ever says no, and I think that’s incredible.”