Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone. Chris Brown is the founder of Venture Legal where he represents startups, freelancers, and small businesses. This column (originally published by Venture Legal) is not intended as an endorsement of any particular Kansas City, Missouri, mayoral candidate.
Kansas City is “on a roll,” says Jolie Justus, and I agree wholeheartedly. What’s important is that our new mayor (whoever we elect this summer) keep that ball rolling!
Of course, we have plenty of issues facing our city — from affordable housing, to education, violence, infrastructure and more. For me, my top concern is entrepreneurship and economic development because you can’t create a vibrant city without a well-functioning business community.
Toward that end, I want to make sure our next mayor continues our progress on that front. We need to make Kansas City a place where people want to do business, where it’s easy to start a business, and where it is easy to grow a business.
On Feb. 26, we had the opportunity to hear from eight candidates running for mayor on their thoughts on entrepreneurship. Below are my favorite takeaways from their comments at the StartupKC Small Business and Entrepreneurship Mayoral Forum.
On getting involved with city hall
The biggest political thing I’ve learned in recent years is that if you want to have a voice at city hall, you have to offer your voice in person. You can’t just send emails or tweets. You have to show up.
Several candidates (Steve Miller, Jermaine Reed and Scott Wagner) had comments on this. They want to increase diversity on boards and commissions established by the mayor. They want more entrepreneurs at the table. Miller went further, saying there needs to be a focus on getting representatives from small businesses at those tables. We can’t rely solely on representatives from the largest corporations.
Scott Taylor also commented that we need to make boards and commissions more flexible because most business owners are busy during the day running their businesses. Thus, more evening and weekend opportunities should be offered.
Justus also advocated for making more use of KCStat by ensuring that we collect more data about entrepreneurs and the businesses they run. Further, we should be analyzing that data as often as possible to make better, faster decisions about what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, and what’s next.
On making it easier to run a business
There were plenty of comments about making it easier to start and grow a business. Both Quinton Lucas and Miller made comments about reducing artificial barriers created by the government that just slow down entrepreneurs. They also commented on removing red tape to speed up business growth.
Lucas talked on this a lot and referenced how the city should be customers of small businesses. The city shouldn’t just purchase from the large corporations, but rather, it should look to small businesses for goods and services. Further, he advocated for making it easier for new market entrants to come to Kansas City. Rather than making it hard on them, let’s welcome them and work with them to provide better private industry services to our community.
On getting help from the city
Often, the government just needs to get out of the way. But sometimes it can provide support. Toward that end, Justus advocated for increasing funding for the KC Biz Care office and improving the ability to get important information from the city’s website. Further, Alissia Canady referenced the struggles of bootstrapping a business and how the city can provide some form a boot camp to help educate new entrepreneurs.
There was also a lot of talk about incentives and tax credits. Justus wants a greater focus on expanding incentives to cover more than just buildings. Meanwhile, Wagner referenced creating angel tax credits at the city level to encourage investment in new businesses.
On developing our workforce
There are thousands of open tech jobs in Kansas City, yet businesses report having a hard time filling those jobs. To solve that problem, we need to look at and invest more in education. Phil Glynn was probably the most prominent advocate of this. He spoke multiple times about the issue and how he wants to invest in developing the workforce of the future.
According to Glynn, at the end of the day, economic development is about people, not just businesses.
And last … a little rant
Politicians love to joke about their teenagers being their tech advisors. While that’s cute, and maybe it plays well with certain audiences, it shouldn’t be a joke. Technology is important. The tech industry is important. So please stop downgrading tech issues to something that only young kids should understand.
Chris Brown is the founder of Venture Legal where he represents startups, freelancers, and small businesses. He also co-founded Contract Canvas, a digital contract platform for freelancers. www.venturelegalkc.com // @CSBCounsel