Kansas City vs. Austin: Bringing a southern recipe of success to the Midwest

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KANSAS CITY, Mo --- Kansas City leaders want to attract more businesses and people to move to town, and they are looking to the south to get some new ideas.

It’s no secret Austin, Texas, is considered a fun, hip city attractive to young professionals and young families. Austin leaders have invested heavily in technology. They’ve created a rich cultural scene filled with live music and the arts. Its population has grown over the years as families and businesses have chosen to move there.

Kansas City leaders say KC offers many of the same things. When Google Fiber picked Kansas City as the first city to receive its new ultra-fast internet service, the world began to notice the small Midwestern city. Entrepreneurs began moving to Kansas City to take advantage of the new technology, creating new jobs. City leaders say most people who visit end up falling in love.

“People love our city,” said Jon Stephens, CEO of the Kansas City Convention and Visitor’s Association. “People love Kansas City and they want to come back. We just need to get more of them here to experience it.”

Stephens says it comes down to marketing. While Austin officials have done a wonderful job selling their city to the world, Kansas City is still trying to come together with a unified message.

“We have a lot going for us,” Stephens said. “We can work together to tell our story to the world because it’s the world who’s listening. We’re not little Kansas City in the Midwest. We are Kansas City that’s connected to the world.”

Stephens and other Kansas City leaders attended a symposium comparing Austin to Kansas City. So why Austin?

“Austin is a good benchmark because they’ve done a lot,” Stephens said. “They’ve grown exponentially. They’ve invested highly in technology and generally they’ve had a lot of success. We need to look at that and look at how we can gain advantages from what we have to sell.”

When discussing the future of Kansas City, leaders point to a thriving downtown sparked by the Sprint Center and the Power and Light District. The construction of new high-rise apartment buildings is expected to attract many young professionals to live and work downtown. Hosting All Star Games in baseball and soccer in recent years brought people from all over the world to Kansas City to visit, and if Kansas City is chosen to host the Republican National Convention, it would bring in many more.

The arts scene in Kansas City is thriving, especially with the recent opening of the world-class Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. There’s live music in Westport. Shopping at the Plaza. The makeover of the 18th and Vine Jazz District. Sporting Park. The World’s Tallest Water Slide at Schlitterbahn. Add in the construction of a streetcar system, the continued construction of new bike lanes and bike paths, and the possible construction of a new airport. Kansas City leaders are understandably excited about the city’s future.

“We need to know who we’re up against nationally and globally,” Stephens said. “We have an immense, authentic story to tell. I mean, we’re one of the leaders in the world with technology, especially with the potential of what we have with Google Fiber.”

He believes Austin has become a victim of its own success. With so many people moving there, traffic has become a nightmare and the cost of living has gone up. He says that is one advantage Kansas City has over Austin: it's much more affordable.

"We are an accessible city," Stephens said. "We are a welcoming city and we’re also a city that is fundamentally affordable. I think we need to remain cognizant of that as we continue to succeed. We are on an upward trajectory. We are moving forward and we have a lot of path ahead of us."

Stephens hopes local communities surrounding Kansas City will work together to become unified in selling Kansas City to the world. While many young college graduates want to live in big cities like Chicago and New York after graduation, Stephens said Kansas City needs to find a way to get those young professionals to move to Kansas City once they are ready to start a family.

“I’ll tell you, we have everything Austin has and more,” Stephens said. “If we’re authentic to ourselves and we invest in our strengths, that awareness and attention (will) bring tens of thousands of new jobs and great opportunities for our citizens.”





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