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Kansas City Catching Up On Job Growth, Expert Says

Kansas City is beginning to catch up with the nation when it comes to employment growth, according to the director of research at the Mid-America Regional Council.

“The new data says that over the last year we actually grew at the same rate as the rest of the U.S., instead of lagging as we had for the last several years,” Frank Lenk told Up To Date host Steve Kraske on Monday.

“We’re still behind in terms of our recovery since the Great Recession," he said. "We have a ways to go before we catch back up, but over the last 12 months or so, we've grown at about the same rate as the  U.S.”

He said that though Kansas City was late coming into the recession, it has been slow to come out of it, and he attributes this to three basic drivers of economic growth:

  • * How well you trade with the rest of the world.
  • * How innovative you are.
  • * The quality of the labor force.

Lenk said that although the workforce in this region is better educated that the U.S. average, we lack in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math occupations.
Kansas City also is not as innovative as the rest of the country in terms of patents issued, and though it excels in shipping and transportation, it lacks in global trade.

“In terms of trade, we’re sort of here in the center of the country and we don't always think about trading with the rest of the world...by and large the share of our economy devoted to trade has been shrinking in the last decade or so,” he said.

Lenk pointed to local initiatives focused on economic drivers.

KC Rising, for example, is a joint effort of MARC, the Kansas City Civic Council, the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce working to establish a plan of action.

Enterprise KC, a chamber initiative, is devoted to making Kansas City more innovative by identifying and investing in businesses that show great potential.

“We should take comfort that we are working harder than ever on taking a lot of the efforts already under way and blending our efforts into a more coherent system, so we can address and monitor progress more easily,” Lenk said.

He added that most of the job growth in the region has been in Johnson County, but he expects that to spread throughout the rest of the city in the next year.

In addition to being KCUR's afternoon newscaster, Lisa Rodriguez covers city hall and other news around Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.