Kansas City is steadily growing and evolving, said Neal Sharma, making it more important than ever to engage at the community level to tackle challenges and secure opportunities facing the region.
That’s especially true as Kansas City prepares for the 2026 World Cup, echoed fellow leaders who spoke Thursday at KC Rising’s Horizon 2023 event.
“We must make sure that [through] this platform — the venue in which connections and collaborations happen — KC Rising gets stronger and better, so as to enable the achievement of our vision now and for future generations,” said Sharma, who serves as the co-chair of KC Rising. “That brings us to today, a day to celebrate our collective progress as a community. But more importantly, to cast our eyes to the horizon.”
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Civic leaders, entrepreneurs and community members gathered Thursday at Children’s Mercy Park to connect, celebrate and share their insights on what issues they’d like Kansas City to acknowledge and address.
Lia McIntosh, director of KC Rising, used the event to share data that showcased the region’s growth in life sciences and entrepreneurship.
“Supported by organizations like BioNexus KC and BioKansas, Kansas City is home to 35,000 employees that are supporting research and development across the region focused on humans and animals,” McIntosh said. “The region has seen a growth of 87 companies since 2006. That’s a 44 percent increase. Progress is possible.
“When we think about entrepreneurship in the KC region — supported by organizations like KCSourceLink [and] KC Global Design — we continue to be a thriving environment for new businesses in industries of all kinds including architecture, engineering and design,” she continued. “In fact, first time employers with small businesses created over 19,000 new jobs in 2021 alone. Progress is possible.”
To account for a larger workforce coming to Kansas City, the region must work to provide more housing options, said Carolyn Watley, co-chair of KC Rising. Watley announced KC Rising’s plans to form an action team focused on housing.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on the myriad of choices we have to live in the KC region; but as we look ahead, we share a concern with our benchmark cities that our supply of housing choice will not meet the needs of the workers we want to attract and retain,” Watley said. “… We applaud those who are working to create more housing choices, and we believe this is an important issue for KC Rising to examine and study in the year ahead. Inclusive prosperity relies on housing choice.”
Horizon 2023 also looked forward three years to the World Cup, which is roughly estimated to be six-to seven times larger than the NFL Draft that Kansas City hosted in April. The 2026 World Cup is set to host 48 teams across 16 cities between June and July.
“We understand that the World Cup 2023 is a generation — probably multi-generational — opportunity to elevate Kansas City to a place on the global stage,” said Cliff Illig, retired vice chairman of the board and co-founder of Cerner, as well as one of the owners of Sporting Kansas City. “As a result, we made a kind of concerted effort to win the bid. It took a great team from the Sports Commission, Sporting, the Chiefs [and] from our local and state governments and many others to submit a very hard-to-ignore proposal to FIFA.”
With the World Cup anticipated to generate a one-time economic impact of more than $600 million for Kansas City, Illig challenged attendees and city planners to focus on how the city can set itself up to receive a long-term return.
“We all need to put our shoulder [to the wheel for] our region’s best shot at having our World Cup transform and enhance who we are to the rest of the world,” Illig said. “We will be reaching out to every one of you and asking for your help.”
Check out a photo gallery from the 2023 Horizon event below.