In an address to constituents Tuesday, Kansas City Mayor Sly James broadly painted his vision for Kansas City and outlined what success for the area would look like.
And at the cornerstones of his ideas for the next decade? The future of Kansas City hinges upon innovation and entrepreneurship.
“A person with an idea: that’s the economy of the future.”
– Sly James
“With Google Fiber and the smart, connected city, Kansas City has at its fingertips the economic infrastructure of the 21st century,” James said during Tuesday’s State of the City address. “That type of infrastructure makes Kansas City attractive to all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas. A person with an idea: that’s the economy of the future.”
How do we create James’ economy of the future? The mayor highlighted the following achievements and areas for improvement.
Continue with smart city development
James cited Google Fiber and the spotlight it shined on Kansas City as the impetus for launching the area’s smart city and entrepreneurial future.
“This new notoriety (from Google Fiber) and all the press and tweets that went with it gave us a new way to tell the Kansas City story,” he said. “Tech entrepreneurs discovered that Kansas City was a great place to start up. They moved here just to plug in to Google Fiber and gigabit connectivity.”
Later, the streetcar created a spine for new tech infrastructure — the smart city project — to further spur progress, James said. Such initiatives are now having a snowball effect for Kansas City’s tech future, he added.
“Kansas City’s tech momentum ramped up this month when we turned on our kiosks and wifi downtown,” he said. “Already our smart, connected city ecosystem in partnership with Cisco, Sprint and others is helping make us at finalist city in a $50 million transportation grant competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Grant.”
Assist ongoing entrepreneurial support systems
“Residents need to be connected to take full advantage of the tech jobs coming our way.”
– Sly James
Programs like LaunchKC continue to play an important role in drawing startups from around the world, James said.
“We strongly support programs like LaunchKC,” he said. “Last year, the first ten LaunchKC recipients received a half million dollars — $50,000 dollars each — by winning a business competition that drew applicants from around the world. And we’re not stopping. Applications for 2016 will be accepted beginning this Friday. We look forward to Techweek in September when 10 more grants will be awarded.”
Grow our tech workforce
James acknowledged the dearth of area tech workers, and the role that government — both local and federal — plays in building talent pipelines.
“Our tech companies need more trained help — people who can manage the flow of information and data, write code, fix equipment and implement creative ideas,” he said. “And lots of people in our city need jobs, or better-paying jobs to support their families. The White House Tech Hire program helps people develop their tech jobs skills and then helps them land apprenticeships that blossom into permanent employment.”
Close the digital divide
The mayor has earmarked part of a $30 million federal grant to reduce the digital divide, adding that it stifles progress for some of Kansas City’s most underserved neighborhoods.
“The $30 million Choice Neighborhood Grant is a major boost for the Paseo Gateway Northeast neighborhood,” he said. “It will improve the lives of the residents there in may ways. Housing, education, social services, transportation, infrastructure upgrades, economic development and reducing the digital divide.”
Closing the digital divide will also help build Kansas City’s tech workforce, he said.
“Residents need to be connected to take full advantage of the tech jobs coming our way,” James said. “That’s one benefit of being part of HUD’s initiatives like ConnectHome and ConnectEd that bring high-speed broadband to families and students in public housing. Many partners, public and private, have come together to make sure we sustain the momentum that Google Fiber kick started just five years ago and enables residents to get fully trained and fully employed.”
Educate our children for 21st-century jobs
James named access to a quality, world-class education as a top priority for the city’s future, especially when it comes to the tech and entrepreneurial community. In addition to programs supporting liberal arts education, he also emphasized new initiatives that can transform what learning looks like.
“Earlier this month, Kansas City got more good news that we are now a pilot community for LRNG,” he said. “LRNG connects youth to in-school, out-of-school, employer-based and online learning experiences that align with their interests and passions. For example, our young people may test their ideas out in a maker meetup, learn to code at a local library, hone their creative writing skills at a poetry slam at a nearby coffee shop.”