As a growing piece of Kansas City’s business fabric, the startup community should better reflect the diverse creative and tech talent working within the city, Mayor Sly James said Tuesday following his State of the City address.
“There are a lot of entrepreneurs who, for example, make bow ties, who make clothing, who do things that have data involved — all sorts of different things,” said James, in comments to reporters after his prepared remarks. “But we need more entrepreneurs of color and we need more entrepreneurs who are women.”
The sentiment dovetailed with a key component of James’ address: inclusivity.
“Most of my staff are women. And on our team are people of color, different sexual orientations, physical abilities, ages and religions,” he told a packed crowd in the auditorium at Plexpod Westport Commons. “Now take a look at your own organizations — if everyone looks the same, you may not be inclusive.”
Fostering an inclusive work culture doesn’t just mean checking a few boxes, James said; it’s about building a stronger, more innovative workforce for the long-term success of Kansas City.
“We must work to make sure KC is a community where today’s — and tomorrow’s — employment force wants to stay, put down roots, raise their families and help shape this city’s future,” he said.
Retaining the best talent is a responsibility shared by city officials and startup leaders, he said, alluding to recent trends showing more highly-skilled, college-educated workers leaving Kansas City than being recruited to it.
“Younger entrepreneurs are bringing talent and expertise, and those are the people who you want hanging around so that they can build the next Hallmark Cards or the next DST or the next Cerner or the next great restaurant or the next great clothing line, whatever the case may be,” James said. “But we want young people coming in, not going out of our city.”
While Kansas City is moving toward success built on inclusion — ”regardless of color, religion, gender identities, sexual orientation, or any other category that has divided us for too long” — not enough progress has been achieved, James said.
“Don’t get me wrong, there is meaningful work being done by skilled, dedicated advocates and leaders in our community,” he said. “Our challenge is to come together and learn from each other, and implement measurable changes, not just within our organizations, but throughout Kansas City in both public and private sectors.”
In his address, James teased the details of a coming Mayor’s Initiative on Race and Inclusion, which is set to begin this spring and is expected to involve stakeholders from the city, as well as nonprofit and private organizations, he said.
James challenged members of the startup community to join the effort and apply their problem-solving skills.
“Nobody has the answer, but collectively we’ll get closer to it, and there’s no shame in not knowing right now. Hell, I don’t know,” he said. “But there is shame in not trying to find out.”
While the group and those who follow it shouldn’t expect to outright fix the community’s race and equity issues, nor eradicate prejudice, they still can make a meaningful impact, James said.
“We will make progress in making Kansas City more inclusive and equitable for everyone growing up, living and working here — whether that’s east of Troost, north of the river, in Brookside or Ruskin,” the mayor said in the closing moments of his address.
Watch the full Mayor’s State of the City address below.