Kansas City was born of an entrepreneurial spirit, said Steve Miller.
“We were all in the spirit head of the Westward Expansion, and [were] entrepreneurs from the very beginning,” said Miller, candidate for the Kansas City, Missouri, mayor, last month during the StartupKC Small Business and Entrepreneurship Mayoral Forum. “We need a mayor that has that spirit and a vision to create a great city.”
With an April 2 KCMO mayoral primary drawing closer, Startland broke down the Feb. 26 forum remarks from the eight major candidates in the race (Vincent Lee, Henry Klein and Clay Chastian also are on the ballot, but did not participate in the forum). Addressing a crowd of entrepreneurs gathered at Plexpod’s Medallion Theater, candidates squared off on issues selected by members of Kansas City’s startup and small business communities.
Two candidates will advance from the April vote to a June 18 general election that determines a winner in the mayoral race.
Click here for Seven FAQs about the KC mayoral race.
Google Fiber opened access to Kansas City in 2015 for a reason, KCMO councilman and candidate Jermaine Reed told a crowd at the forum, which was organized by Project United Knowledge and the Kansas City Startup Foundation.
“Of course, now they have expanded across this entire country, but I know that Kansas City should be the Silicon Valley of the Midwest,” said Reed. “There’s so many opportunities here and with the [help of] all the smart minds in the room, we can continue to make it the best city it possibly can be.”
Reed echoed a sentiment most of the candidates referenced throughout the forum: Entrepreneurs — or at least entrepreneurial thinking — must be represented at the city level, not only to aid small business interests, but to ensure the city continues to evolve.
“Without a question, we would not be here today if not for [entrepreneurs],” said councilwoman and candidate Jolie Justus. “We need to make sure that we create an environment where everybody can succeed and can use that foundation of entrepreneurism to keep the entire city moving forward.”
Keep reading for highlights from each candidate’s remarks about startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Occupation: Councilwoman (Fifth District), managing attorney at Canady Law Firm
De-risking entrepreneurship: “[De-risking entrepreneurship] in Kansas City is a multifaceted problem because No 1: you have to make sure that people go into business with adequate understanding about what they’re about to embark on. I’ve [started] two businesses and it’s very challenging — particularly when you’re bootstrapping. Secondly, you have to make sure that there’s access to capital, then finally, you have to make sure you have spaces for small to medium-size businesses and the ability to provide additional resources or capacity so that they can begin to hire more people. I think when we create a layered approach that supports all the concerns that most business owners have, I think we’ll begin to see what people are [capable of.]”
On the city’s budget: “Small business is not reflected as priority in the city’s budget. Over a $100 million dollars have been allocated where we’ve guaranteed debt from the city’s general fund for spenders in real estate development. We have not invested anything to that scale to anything other than that. I will be intentional about how we allocate the city’s dollars and make sure we’re creating economic opportunities across the city.”
Bonus final thoughts for entrepreneurs: “The greatest economic development investment is in human capital and ensuring the success of local businesses. We must create an environment where visions can be realized and successful startups can flourish. But I cannot do it alone — We must grow Kansas City together.”
Click here to read about how advocates boosted support for entrepreneurs in the KCMO city budget.
Occupation: Travois president and co-founder
On the skills gap: “The gap between the skills companies need and the skills training that our people have been given is the biggest threat to our success economically as a city. I actually had a personal experience with a friend of mine who started a financial services/technology-related business that had to go to Denver because he didn’t feel like his business could grow here. Now, personally, I feel like he gave up on us a little bit too soon, but we do have to make it easier [to grow] despite all the trials and tribulations you have to go through in running a business.”
On workforce development: “[We need to] develop our workforce. That means bringing together our businesses, our labor unions, our community colleges, and also our young people that are at an age where they still haven’t made that decision about what’s going to happen after high school. Let’s get them on the same page with all the stakeholders, including mentors, and start talking about what kind of workforce we need to be successful in the future.”
On capital access: “I’ll really try to do what I can to reform our economic development programs and ensure that adequate capital is following to the communities in Kansas City that lacks that access to capital, that startup people know, is critical to helping a business get off the ground.”
Bonus final thoughts for entrepreneurs: “I’m a small business owner, so I can identify with the wild ride you are on. I promise you that the door of the mayor’s office will always be open to innovators, disruptors and everyone who believes in their ability to change the world.”
Occupation: Councilwoman (Fourth District), director of pro bono services for Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP
Making KC an attractive place to do business: “We need to make sure that we sit down and have a conversation about what other tools are available and the best practices from other cities to make sure we’re implementing those here in Kansas City. Doing everything in our power to make Kansas City the best place in the country to do business also means [better] transportation, housing and public safety. All of those things have to happen if we want to succeed and add new, innovative ideas from across the country.”
On increasing funding for KC BizCare: “We don’t have enough staff in that office. We need to have concierges that are available to help problem solve and answer the questions that we have on a regular basis, and while we are making huge strides to be a smarter city right now, it’s still very difficult to find information about the city online. We really need to up our game on that.”
Bonus final thoughts for entrepreneurs: “Kansas City is on a roll right now and we are just getting started. We need a strong effective leader to make sure that we translate our success into something that can be felt in every neighborhood. That means focusing on investments and public policies that make Kansas City a better place to start or grow a business. If we fund, foster and promote our startup/entrepreneur community, we can create a diverse, inclusive, equitable ecosystem that will write the next chapter of our success story.”
Occupation: Councilman (Third District at-large), lawyer and lecturer of law at the University of Kansas
Innovation in city hall: “There are a lot of things that you have to worry about each day and one of the biggest things I want you to not worry about is that city hall is unfriendly to innovation or that city hall is creating regulation without working with you.”
Risk taking: “I actually want to encourage a Kansas City where people come to be risk takers. Much of what [entrepreneurs] do every day is taking a risk. What you need to know is that when you come to Kansas City, and you take risks, you can find a community that supports you. And more importantly, we want to make sure that we’re encouraging people to take risks not just in one part of Kansas City — that’s going to be key for building a great entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Occupation: Lawyer, former chairman of Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission
Entrepreneurial spirit: “I want to build the city that my daughters will return to. A city of the 21st Century that’s vibrant and inclusive and diverse and prosperous and inclusively prosperous for everyone — and that takes an entrepreneurial spirit.”
On entrepreneur-focused policy making: “It’s not always about more government. Sometimes it’s about government allowing creativity to thrive. One of the things I was going to look at in terms of policies in the city, is where we are doing things that are not of the entrepreneurial spirit and what we should do to eliminate those.”
Diverse leadership: “The mayor has an opportunity to make over 100 appointments and that is a great opportunity to not only shape the city but the future of the city’s leadership. I hear from parts of the city that it’s not racially reflective of the city’s demographics but it’s also not reflective of gender. So, we need to fix that, but we also need to make sure that we’re speaking to entrepreneurs. I think we need make certain that we have positions on those boards that are diverse in terms of business background and that means reaching down into the bright minds of our entrepreneurial community because if we’re going to be that city of the 21st Century, we need fresh ideas that challenge how we’ve always done things and challenge us to assume the role of leadership in the heart of the country.”
Occupation: Councilman (Third District)
Cutting red tape: “One of the things I’ve learned over the past eight years is that city government can do so much to impact the lives of every single person. [We need] to make sure that small business can have that access to capital and that city hall is a straight line in cutting that red tape so businesses can actually do business a lot easier and efficiently through city hall.”
On encouraging civic engagement: “We need to make sure that in the administration, all the voices [are heard], and not just the ones that are the most vocal, but those who oftentimes feel like their voices aren’t heard. [We need to] be able to provide opportunities for them to give their feedback and also interact within the city government so that we can create the type of policies and solutions that actually make an impact.”
Occupation: Councilman (Sixth District), lawyer
On access to resources: “There are resources we need. There’s a microloan program … We need to continue doing those types of initiatives. In the budget, we have $150,000 to start the strategic future plan of Kansas City called the ‘FOCUS’ plan, many decades ago. We need to update that and that’s going to require especially the younger entrepreneurs to be involved to really shape what Kansas City needs to look like in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years.”
On listening to the private sector: “We’ve done a lot that has changed the [outlook] of technology [in Kansas City] — We’ve got great accelerators, incubators, and it’s really been successful in bring new businesses to Kansas City so I would say again, that we need to listen to the private sector. You tell us what you need and we need to help you get those things in place.”
Bonus final thoughts for entrepreneurs: “I have a track record of working with startups. In addition to my work as a business lawyer, I formed the first ever Small Business Committee on the city council when I took office in 2011. I chaired it and held 17 hearings/committee meetings and asked for startups to give us suggestions as to how to cut the red tape and what resources were needed. We implemented over 60 of those suggestions back in 2011 and 2012. We need to do another round of this with the new mayor and council. I have also worked to fund the startup of the Fountain City Fintech accelerator at NBKC, as we should have this in Kansas City.”
Occupation: Councilman (First District at-large), Mayor Pro Tem, former vice president at Wagner Marketing
Reflecting KC’s demographics in leadership: “The mayor is responsible for approximately 100 different boards and commissions and my belief is that most of the time when you get a look at those boards and commissions, they are reflective of the usual suspects — people who have been in those positions or in some cases, decades. What I think is important is to find and engage new leadership — people who, for example, are of color, or are starting their own businesses and having experiences with development. If you don’t have them being part of the next round of leadership, then you’re not going to see that same leadership become the next city council person or mayor of the city.”
On a possible angel investor tax credit: “We have talked about one in the State of Missouri forever, but we’re not going to get it from the state. If we’re saving someone’s taxes, we’ll bring more investment to the forefront.”
Bonus final thoughts for entrepreneurs: “I think if we are going to be Austin 2.0, we need to energize our startup/entrepreneurial community. That means we need to bring thought leaders to Kansas City, create a Mayoral Fellowship to help our talent go from good to elite, use our leadership in Green technologies to be a leader in the Green New Deal conversation and be a welcoming and easy to work with City for the next Pinterest or Dropbox, so that when those IPOs come it will be Kansas City that can see the benefit and not another City. We need to grow talent, create financing options and be open to businesses that want to develop here.”
Occupation: branch manager at Bank of America, board president for HabitatKC, board vice president for the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City
Klein responded to a Startland questionnaire but his answers did not address startups, small business, or entrepreneur issues.
Click here for a Kansas City Star report on Klein’s campaign.
Clay Chastain and Vincent Lee did not participate in this report.
Keep reading about the KCMO mayoral race