Report: More than 500 small and midsize companies in KC have the potential to sell internationally.
Kansas City’s civic leaders want to help 100 local companies become exporters in the next five years—and they especially want to work with small and midsize businesses.
Over the past 16 months, a coalition of community groups collaborated with the Brookings Institution on a plan for boosting Kansas City’s exports. The Kansas City Metro Export Plan was unveiled during a luncheon last month. (You can read it online.)
While they worked on the plan, researchers discovered something surprising: Kansas City has more than 500 small and midsize businesses that, with a little guidance, could become exporters.
“There’s untapped potential, enormous untapped potential,” said Marek Gootman, director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives for the Brookings Institution.
Ask The Concierge
There are already several local organizations that offer training, connections and other assistance for small exporters. But in a survey, 75 percent of companies said they either didn’t know about or didn’t use those resources.
The solution: a new Export Concierge service offered by World Trade Center Kansas City (WTC).
Economic developers will be on the lookout for companies that might be a good fit for exporting, and they’ll refer those businesses to the WTC.
The WTC will then figure out what kind of help those companies need and actively connect them with nonprofit organizations, government agencies and other service providers.
So far, the Export Concierge team is assisting 14 businesses, including Pulse Aerospace and Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters.
The program is getting referrals from economic developers in Platte and Wyandotte counties and Kansas City, Mo., but plans to start collaborating with all 25 of the region’s econo-mic development agencies by early next year.
JPMorgan Chase has awarded a $125,000 grant to support Kansas City’s export plan. The money will help pay for the Export Concierge service. Plus, later this year, local companies will be able to apply for “microgrants” to support their exporting efforts.
How We Got Here
This all came about because Kansas City applied for the Global Cities Initiative (GCI), a five-year program operated by Brookings and JPMorgan Chase.
GCI has helped about 30 metro areas develop strategies for increasing their international sales. A local and regional approach is more effective, Gootman said, because local governments and organizations can do a better job getting potential exporters engaged.
Supporters include the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, KC SmartPort, KC Rising, the Mid-America Regional Council and the Kansas City Area Development Council.
“There are very few places that have gotten that level of commitment to execution,” said Gootman.
He had another piece of advice for Kansas City leaders.
To be as effective as possible, they should concentrate on a few industries that have the most potential for success in exports. Every city has something that it does especially well. Portland, for example, is known for sustainability while Des Moines is strong in financial services and agribusiness.
The Kansas City Metro Export Plan ties into the new KC Rising effort to increase Kansas City’s economic competitiveness. One of KC Rising’s goals is to create more good-paying jobs, and exporting companies tend to pay their employees 17 percent more than nonexporters do, said Joe Reardon, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber.
“This is our region’s first-ever export plan and serves as the international component of KC Rising’s effort to grow the region’s economy,” Reardon said. “We believe the new export plan will go a long way in supporting businesses in Greater Kansas City.”