A member of President Obama’s cabinet met with local entrepreneurs Tuesday to discuss how federal funds have helped accelerate their businesses, and in turn grow Kansas City.
In a stop to Kansas City during the National Council of La Raza, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker met with companies that have participated in business incubator Digital Sandbox KC. Digital Sandbox, which has received two i6 Challenge grants from the Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, invests up to $25,000 in area businesses for specific projects that help them secure additional funding.
Sworn into office in 2013, Pritzker lauded the hard work of entrepreneurs in Kansas City, as well as its array of support organizations.
“There’s some incredible entrepreneurship going on here,” Pritzker said. “What’s so exciting about different incubators and accelerators are that they reflect the needs and personalities of their locales. … Each one is a reflection of its local ecosystems, but the products have applications both nationally and in many instances globally.”
Pritzker in particular noted three companies in the Kansas City metro that impressed her with their models. Each Digital Sandbox companies, RFP365, Acre Designs and Play-it Health each received kudos for their work in technology, homebuilding and health care, respectively. Pritzker added that support organizations in the area such as KCSourceLink are doing their part to help foster innovation and entrepreneurial ventures.
Pritzker also said that Kansas City is an entrepreneurial hub that solidifies the Midwest as a powerhouse in innovation.
“There’s no flying over the Midwest,” she said. “The question is (how to) make greater awareness of all the support structures and the innovation that’s going on in different communities outside of the ones that have global recognition like Silicon Valley or New York City.”
Asked what hurdles are standing in front of increased entrepreneurship in areas such as Kansas City, Pritzker said that the Department of Commerce is looking at a number of efforts. Among them, she said the department is working to create a more skilled workforce for growing industries, including technology.
In addition she said that immigration reform is essential to further cultivate economic growth for the U.S. with a new, young workforce.
“The bridge is broken for young people, if you will,” she said. “There’s enormous potential — I can’t give the economic value of it— but I can tell you 2 million young people is a lot of potential. Aside from just the economic loss of not passing comprehensive immigration reform, we have a moral responsibility to the people living here. It’s not consistent with our values, the current posture that we’re in.”