Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Collaboration between a local startup and dozens of area corporations could be the first step in making sure COVID-19 testing and information reaches Kansas Citians with limited access to health and financial resources.
“If you’re living in a minority community and you’re trying to start your small business, you should have as much access to that information as someone who is working in sort of a medium or a large-scale business in the suburbs — there should be no difference between those things,” explained Tyler Nottberg, chairman and CEO of US Engineering Company Holdings and one of the corporate leaders working to launch Comeback KC.
Comeback KC is a collaborative effort between corporations and government leaders to create a unified strategy and message to help the entire Kansas City region make a comeback from COVID-19, born out of the recently launched C19KC taskforce.
“This thing is the great equalizer and we need to treat it as such,” Nottberg added. “[We asked,] ‘What is the plan for our community to deal with this across all of these counties and 119 different cities?’ …. as we stepped back and we started talking [we thought] maybe we should be the ones that come up with a strategy.”
Part of the group’s strategy will include increased access to COVID-19 testing in underserved parts of the city and corporate support for a contract-tracing mobile application — COVID Safe Paths — built by Kansas City-based startup TripleBlind.
“We spent a lot of time validating and finding an app that would be based upon privacy first,” explained Andrew Deister, CEO of Russell Stover Chocolates and founding member of the C19KC task force — alongside Nottberg, Nathaniel Hegedorn, CEO of NorthPoint Development, and Taimoor Nana, CEO of MTAR, an apparel supply chain and manufacturing firm.
“A whole lot of work has gone into and [there’s been] a lot of thought around being able to endorse and support something that we know is an important part of that,” Deister added.
Click here to read more about COVID Safe Paths which was created at the request of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
COVID-19 isn’t ending on a set date
Another crucial element in Kansas City’s recovery will be centralized messaging around plans for further testing and rules surrounding the reopening of communities across the metro, Nottberg added.
“It’s a foregone conclusion that a date will signify the end of something. I think that’s a mistake. Our community needs to just continue pressing forward and adapting and changing as the data reveals itself,” he said.
“If we can create this common platform, whether it’s through the Comeback KC website, redirecting people to the appropriate health authorities and continuing to put pressure on all of us to do more — because we can always do more — that’s a key element of what it’s going to take.”
The path forward for Kansas City is a marathon, not a sprint, Nottberg said.
“If we all realize that now, we can make better choices rather than lock ourselves into a particular approach,” he said.
As the metro braces itself for widespread reopening Friday, leaders of Comeback KC are cautiously optimistic, Deister said.
“I think we all share a very deep concern that people will take the loosening of Stay at Home orders as a license to just go back to normal,” he said. “The predictable outcome of that is that we will see a spike in cases in our region in two weeks, and I think from a communications perspective, we are trying to catch up with and get in front of changes on the ground and help people realize that this is not going back to normal.”
Diagnosing health inequities
As Comeback KC prepares to combat a potential rise in cases, the group is working to obtain COVID-19 tests in its fight against a simultaneous problem — Kansas City’s health inequities, the group told Startland News, highlighting statistics that reveal black residents account for 44 percent of reported cases in Kansas City, Missouri and 53 percent of deaths in Wyandotte County, despite representing only 23 percent of the county’s population.
Nationally, there’s a higher rate of death among black and Latino/Hispanic populations and the Navajo Nation has experienced the third-highest infection rate outside of New York and New Jersey, Comeback KC cited statistics revealed.
“When we reached out to some black and Latino leaders in the city, to sort of understand how we can best engage and reach those communities [they said,] ‘There’s this idea that we’re all in this together, but some of us are more in it than others,’” Comeback KC organizers said about the effort.
“They really pushed us, as we were developing the Comeback KC campaign, to lean into the part of the campaign that says, ‘We don’t have to just go back to normal.’ We can come back better.”
And better is exactly what Nottberg said he hopes to see Kansas City become.
“If we come out of this on the backend and we have not figured out how to be a better community and better to one another, then it’s a huge opportunity loss,” he said.
“We want to be proud — 10 years from now — of what it means to come from Kansas City,” Nottberg said. “And our population is generous, but our population is not perfect. Nobody is. And so to the extent that we can utilize either this campaign or this dialogue or these newfound connections and relationships to improve other people’s lives in meaningful ways, that’s how we need to think about allocating and reallocating resources — and community health is no different than some of the issues that we’ve been continuing to try and address as the community forever.”
The group’s makeup and rich network of resources is poised to lead the charge in creating a better connected community, Deister added.
“The entire community is benefited by these actions. … It would be a big miss if we didn’t also build on an already wonderful community. The ideas will be adopted faster and I think our benefit will be even bigger,” he said. “We will end up in a place that we will be more proud of if we can find ways to continue to speak with one voice to put aside partisan or economic kind of differences and end up in a place where — relative to many other comparable cities — we’d be a model that others could look to.”