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KCADC History

by Megan Segura | Jan 01, 2021

In one form or another, economic development has been going on in the KC region from the very beginning ... but the current era really began in the late 1960s. Kansas City had been through a rough time highlighted by the decline of the railroads and decaying urban neighborhoods as residents favored a suburban lifestyle. In the words of Charlie Kimball, a Kansas City businessman, Kansas City was “under utilized, under built, under recognized and under energized.”

However, at the turn of the decade things began to change. Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Ike Davis and other city, county and business leaders had a vision and they were determined to see it through.

During Davis’s term, more than $5 billion in new construction began, 75 percent of which came from the private sector. Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums, Crown Center, Kansas City International Airport and Hospital Hill began to change the face of Kansas City.

Residents knew the region had a lot to offer, but not everyone everywhere shared that perception. One New Yorker’s response to the question, "What do you think of when you think of Kansas City?" was… "I don’t think of Kansas City at all."

Area Leaders Launch PrimeTime

In 1971, area leaders decided to change that. Nearly two dozen business and civic leaders met to discuss Kansas City’s national image. The idea that carried the day came from Bill Johnson, Hallmark Cards’ public relations director, when he suggested a major, on-going public relations campaign that would tell our city's story to the nation.

Over the next few months, leaders met at weekly breakfast meetings to hammer out the details. The Carl Byoir agency in New York would handle the campaign and a local steering committee would direct it. Its name would be Prime Time.

The effort was kicked off with a press conference in New York City and the KC team wondered whether any reporters would even show up. Not only did they come, but the stories they wrote over the coming months and years were even better - and certainly cheaper - than advertising. KC was featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, the Saturday Evening Post and dozens of other publications.

Charlie Kimball of MRI, flew all over the country giving speeches - from San Francisco ... to Chicago ... to Boston. The KC team hosted reporters and business executives in Kansas City and successfully landed the 1976 Republican National Convention.

Prime Time became a model for city promotion, but the time had come to more fully capitalize on KC's new image; time to directly compete with other cities for firms that were expanding or moving - time to turn publicity into jobs, and visitors into investments.

The Kansas City Chamber of Commerce appointed a task force to study how best to do this. The recommendation was to create an autonomous but affiliated economic development organization modeled after existing programs in Memphis, San Antonio, Buffalo and Omaha.

Based on this recommendation, the Kansas City Area Economic Development Council was born, and merged with the Prime Time program into one organization.

A Regional Economic Development Strategy

Several key considerations were a part of this decision. First of all was the recognition that Kansas City's economic development effort must be metropolitan. For too long, communities in Kansas and Missouri competed with each other for new business. The area was hurting itself with a parochialism that pitted cities, counties, railroads, utilities and developers against one another.

No one was representing Kansas City as a whole.

Secondly, leaders recognized the importance of continuing to involve high-level leadership from the private and public sectors - people like Charlie Kimball, Bob Gaynor, Bob Long, Ike Davis, Henry Bloch, Miller Nichols and Bob Kipp.

It was also important to maintain the momentum of the national public relations campaign, and to supplement it with advertising and publications.

The success of PrimeTime, along with the Kansas City region's desire for aggressive image marketing and job creation, led to the creation of the Kansas City Area Development Council (KCADC). Today, KCADC represents 18 counties and 50 major cities in Kansas and Missouri. 

Finally, leaders understood the need to improve the region's research capabilities to better serve business prospects, and the effort needed to be funded at a level that would attract a top-caliber professional staff.

Jim Monroe was was hired as the first head executive for the KCAEDC. He came from Omaha, he knew his business and he was instrumental in getting the Development council off on the right foot.

The success of KCAEDC's early years - when organizations like Mutual Benefit Life, Camp Fire, DeLaval and W.W. Grainger chose to locate or expand in KC - validated the need for a regional economic development focus.

Through excellent cooperation between the city and the states working together to attract new companies and jobs to the KC region, the organization took a larger view of what makes up the KC metropolitan area. Not only geographically, but also as a competitive advantage.

With a regional definition, KCADC (the Economic was dropped in the mid-90s) added the assets of Lawrence, St. Joseph, Harrisonville and Topeka, to expand the menu of advantages and offerings for more companies.

The result has been a remarkable string of successes with companies choosing to locate in Kansas City rather than Charlotte, Dallas, Louisville, Denver, Indianapolis or Minneapolis-St. Paul.

KCADC established the SmartCities brand and national marketing campaign in 1994 which gave way to the ThinkKC brand in 2004.

In addition to the attraction of more than 500 companies and nearly 60,000 new jobs, KCADC is credited with the development of regional industry-sector initiatives including KC SmartPort, the KC Animal Health Corridor, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, TeamKC: Life+Talent and the KC Tech Council. The organization also plays a key role in the KC Rising regional business plan effort, and co-led the business community's involvement in achieving voter approval for the new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

Think KC™ Campaign

Think KC™ is KCADC's national marketing and branding campaign. It positions Greater Kansas City as the preeminent location of choice for growing corporations.

KCADC is promoting KC as a great place to work and live. We're also solidifying relationships with real estate developers and site consultants through hosting events, direct marketing and industry trade shows. The goal of Think KC™ is to raise the region’s profile among top business decision makers, upgrade our national image and present our region as a top U.S. city to attract companies, jobs and new residents.

OneKC Campaign

onekc-web-01OneKC, KCADC's regional unity campaign, symbolizes the cohesiveness of the entire KC metro area – the economic, social and cultural interdependence between our two states, 18 counties and 50-plus communities.

The overall message of the OneKC campaign is simply, "we are one." Our goal is to create a competitive advantage for the KC region in the race for new jobs, investment and tax base. Our business strategy is to create a seamless, unified "metro product" for corporate decision makers, site consultants and real estate influencers. By creating a regional mind set, we increase our chances for new investment and in attaining the top-tier image KC deserves. The OneKC mindset reminds us that we all benefit from each city's unique success. It provides KC residents with a unified sense of place and pride.

Competitive Advantage

Every day our region competes against other major metros. We compete for new corporate investments, new jobs and talented people.

As OneKC we can compete and win. 

Here’s why.

As a unified force, we have one of the most diverse and attractive portfolios in the nation. 

When KCADC was created Don Hall and Henry Bloch, leaders of two of the region’s most powerful and prestigious corporations and two of the nation’s most recognized brands, believed to compete on a national level, we must present our business environment as a region, not individual communities.

Their vision set a precedent in economic development.  But, more importantly it put Kansas City in the game to win more than 500 companies and more than 50,000 direct jobs. 

The goal of OneKC is to continue to strengthen that vision and ensure our region remains a top contender for companies looking to expand or relocate. 

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