Kansas City’s Tech Inertia
In the State of the City speech in late March, Mayor Sly James outlined his vision for an innovation economy and boasted of the region’s “tech momentum,”
This new notoriety (from Google Fiber) and all the press and tweets that went with it gave us a new way to tell the Kansas City story, Tech entrepreneurs discovered that Kansas City was a great place to start up. They moved here just to plug in to Google Fiber and gigabit connectivity.
Well, maybe not. Google Fiber came to the Kansas City area in 2011, the same year Mayor James took office. Prior to that, information jobs in the region, according to the U.S. Census, had been sliding downward. The number of these jobs slipped from 52,000 in 2008 to 39,000 in 2011, a loss of one-quarter. Since then, the numbers through 2013 are pretty flat.
We don’t need to rely solely on Census data. The Show-Me Institute’s Joe Miller recently reviewed a study by the San Diego Economic Development Corporation that ranked cities based on the health of their tech scenes. Miller concluded that the tech industry in Saint Louis is “not a large player nationally, nor is it a terribly significant driver of,” the economy. The outlook for Kansas City is even worse. Of the country’s 50 largest metros, Kansas City ranked 34th, behind peer cities St. Louis (28th) and Oklahoma City (24th) but ahead of Louisville (39th).
Kansas City ranked even lower (42nd) for tech talent, a measure based on tech employee retention rates, percent of population with computer or math degrees, and the number of computer science degrees being awarded. The Mayor recognized as much in his remarks,
Our tech companies need more trained help—people who can manage the flow of information and data, write code, fix equipment and implement creative ideas. And lots of people in our city need jobs, or better-paying jobs to support their families.
While more recent Census data may show an uptick in information jobs and employers in the Kansas City region, for all the spending and talk of momentum and people moving to Kansas City “just to plug in,” the data suggest otherwise.