March 25, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Star: Airport Design Will Attract Next Cerner, Garmin

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Incomes in the Kansas City area aren’t rising fast enough, and economic growth isn’t creating quality jobs, economist Frank Lenk told the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

By those measures, the city is keeping pace with the rest of the nation, the Kansas City Star reported. However, Lenk warned at a breakfast event that the city will need to improve dramatically in order to compete with cities like Seattle.

The Kansas City Star goes out of its way to link economic growth in the metro to the outcome of a vote on whether to knock down the existing airport and build a new one. Laughably, the paper says the next Garmin or Cerner will take things like the airport’s design into consideration when choosing where to locate. The paper doesn’t mention that both Garmin and Cerner were founded by native Kansans. 

The paper is about as subtle as a jack hammer in its attempt to link competitive edge to the outcome of a Nov. 7 airport vote. The story quotes Mariner Kemper, CEO of UMB Financial Corp. Kemper says the airport is the kind of feature business owners consider when determining where to locate.

“If Kansas City wants to remain competitive and attract companies like the future Garmins and future Cerners, you have to compete. And if you don’t compete, you don’t win,” he tells the Star.

The Star uses the quote without mentioning Garmin, headquartered in Olathe, and Cerner, headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, are homegrown businesses. Gary Burrell, one of Garmin’s founders, is a native Kansan. Neal Patterson, one of Cerner’s founders, is also a native Kansan. The airport’s configuration probably played little, if any, in the decision of either organization to locate in Kansas. It also likely plays little in whether tomorrow’s entrepreneurs get their starts in Kansas or Missouri.

Economist Lenk told the Chamber that Kansas–once the historical job leader in the bi-state area–is lagging behind Missouri. Lenk says the Sunflower State generated 56 percent of the region’s growth between 2012 and 2015, but now Missouri accounts for 78 percent of job growth in the metro.

The Star’s story marks one of the few times in recent memory in which the Star  mentions Kansas circa 2012 and completely ignores the state’s historic income tax cuts of the same year. The much maligned tax cuts, especially those for pass-through entities, sparked small business growth.

Pass-through growth represented 82 percent of all of the private sector jobs created in Kansas in 2013 and 2014. They grew at three times the rate as prior to the tax cuts, and Missouri only started winning the Border War for economic growth in the Kansas City metro about the time the tax policy became a political football. Stable tax policy contributes to economic growth.

Cerner wasn’t always an economic giant. Neither was Garmin. Both were once small businesses started by savvy, native entrepreneurs. If the Star and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce are truly concerned with attracting giant industries complete with “quality jobs” perhaps they should be thinking about what creates an environment where entrepreneurs thrive. The design of the airport probably doesn’t enter that equation.





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