Author Archive

The Big 5 Ideas and Their Champions

September 16, 2011

September 16, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

Chamber Chair Greg Graves pushed the ‘send’ button on an email seven months ago, and that’s what started the journey to the Big 5. He asked 17 friends to convene a “no bad ideas” meeting to talk about goals for the region. I still have that email, in which Greg writes, “Jim Heeter and I either like you, respect you, fear you, or think you’ll offer a unique perspective. I’ll let you guess on that one.”

We wound up convening two dozen meetings, with still more ideas gathered through The Chamber website, during radio appearances, via email and letters and just being buttonholed on the street.

It took seven months to get to the Big 5 – seven months of meetings and discussion with people from all over the KC region, all of them passionate about improving this place we all call home. Our first list of big ideas numbered 182. Here – in no particular order – are the final Big 5:

1.       The World’s Symposium on Animal Health — Champion:  Gary Forsee

The KC Animal Health Corridor, situated between Columbia, Missouri, and Manhattan, Kansas, already boasts the single largest concentration of animal health interests in the world. In fact, KC area companies account for nearly 32 percent of total sales in the $19 billion global animal health market. Holding a global symposium cements the image of the Corridor as THE center for animal health.

2.       The Urban Core Neighborhood Initiative —Champion:  Terry Dunn, JE Dunn Construction

Spurring economic development, preventing violence, improving education in the urban core were ideas that came up at many of the Big 5 meetings. Dunn and Stewart are already meeting with key leadership, organizations and foundations, and hope to have a strategic plan within the next 90 to 120 days.

3.       The Making of America’s Most Entrepreneurial City — Champion:  Peter deSilva, UMB Bank

We’ve got the assets and the history, and, like the Urban Core initiative, entrepreneurship was another consistent idea in our meetings. As deSilva says, better to grow our own rather than try to woo fickle corporations to locate here. Business growth and job creation aren’t coming from the big guys these days; they’re coming from entrepreneurs and small businesses

4.        The KC Regional Translational Research Institute — Champion:  Dr. Patrick James, Quest Diagnostics

The overarching goal here is to make KC a nationally-recognized center for translational research. The five year goal is to raise $60 million to triple the recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) granted to area researchers. “This could be transformative,” Dr. James says. “It’s a force for further economic collaboration… and an engine for economic growth that will touch all parts of our regional economy.”

5.       The New UMKC Downtown Conservatory — Champion:  Leo Morton, UMKC

This “Big Idea” calls for relocating the renowned UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance to a new downtown location. Currently the Conservatory is housed on the UMKC campus in three different buildings that require extensive renovation. By moving the campus downtown, it leverages new and existing assets including the Kauffman Performing Arts Center and the Crossroads Arts District, and grows Downtown.

So, that’s the list. It was, I admit, hard to get to the final five. There were a lot of great ideas from which to choose. But we believe these five goals will create jobs and build a greater community for all of us.

It’s up to the Champions to come up with their plans for implementation. Incoming Chamber Chair Frank Ellis promises regular updates as to our progress on each. So stay tuned – and thanks to all of you who shared your ideas with us.

This has been fun. Now the hard work starts.

Check out the Big 5 in the news and the videos from the Big 5 roll out on ChamberTV.


Check ’em out – 182 Big Ideas for “Big KC”

July 6, 2011

July 6, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

First of all, thanks to those of you who sent us their Big Ideas for Big KC. Talk about creativity and passion – the ideas we got through this website covered a range of issues and opportunities. You’ll find those suggestions among the 182 Big Ideas we’ve collected, posted here.

This all started when we began asking the question, “If you were CEO of “Big KC” – the region – what would your goals be?” Chamber Chair Greg Graves and I met with civic leaders and CEOs, minority representatives and mayors, and proponents for arts, transit and trails, and urban KC. More ideas came via the Web and call-in talk shows.

I have to admit – it’s been great fun.

Greg and I have also seen a real desire at all the meetings for true regional collaboration and determined action. People want to find ways to work above the state line.

The ideas we’ve collected are fascinating. Here’s just a sample:

  • Create and pass an initiative petition to triple Missouri’s existing cigarette tax (now the lowest in the nation at 17 cents a pack; the national average is $1.45 per pack) and use new money for a variety of good purposes.  (The current 17 cents/pack raises approximately $63 million annually).
  • Develop a coalition to attract retail – a “big box” and/or grocery store – within the central city, eliminating “food deserts” within the urban core, saving residents money, and fostering further economic development.
  • Convene a year-long process to study the feasibility, costs, and interest in building a light rail system and make a final decision one way or the other.

Here’s our next step: On Tuesday, July 12, The Chamber will hold an all-day session to bring the list to a more manageable number. The process will be led by Michael Gallis, an internationally-known expert in large-scale metropolitan regional development strategies. (Michael’s clients include cities and regions such as Detroit, Charlotte, Orlando, Cincinnati, and Memphis.)

At the end of the day, we’ll have a shorter list to take to The Chamber Board for final consideration. We have no idea what will be on the list – the ideas may be as originally presented or a new amalgam of several proposals.

Next Tuesday promises to be a thought-provoking and interesting day.  We’ll keep you posted.

To read the 182 Big Ideas, click here.

From D.C. to K.C.

June 7, 2011

June 7, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

The Chamber plays host – and advocate – this week to more than 20 staff members from our two-state congressional delegation. We call it “Spotlight Greater Kansas City” – three very full days of shining the light on key initiatives critical to our metropolitan area.

By way of explanation, most congressional offices are staffed by bright, young women and men, many of whom have rarely visited their bosses’ home districts. Spotlight is our biannual effort to provide them an intensive look at the region, our issues and our needs.

Intense is certainly an appropriate word. The schedule we’ve laid out for them would choke the proverbial horse.

In the three days they’re with us, we have sessions scheduled covering a variety of issues including biosciences, energy, engineering, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and transit. We’ll spend a morning at Black & Veatch, an afternoon at the Olathe Innovation Campus, and time both at MARC and our beautiful Board Room at Union Station.

We’ll spend several hours touring the region as well, focusing on infrastructure needs on both sides of the state line. (Federal dollars, as you know, are vital to fully-funding local transportation projects.)

We’ve provided some time for networking and a little relaxation at the end of the day, with receptions and dinners at Boulevard Brewery and the studios of sculptor Tom Corbin (the artist behind the Firefighters Memorial Fountain on 31st Street) – two very cool places to show off Kansas City.

My thanks and congratulations to our Government Relations staff for organizing yet another successful event. This is all about building relationships, and Spotlight Greater Kansas City does just that. As Brian Klippenstein, Deputy Chief of Staff for Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, tells us:

Spotlight Greater KC is truly a unique opportunity to best understand the diverse activities and meet the leadership of the Greater Kansas City area efficiently and enjoyably. Loaded with diverse on-site exposure, first hand contact with public and private sector leaders, as well as fellow staff from the area delegation, there is no better way to pack in more value in such limited time to prepare you for K.C. – area public advocacy.”

A final thought:  we regularly bemoan our bistate nature, but in this case there’s a benefit. We have not two but four U.S. Senators and a sizable two-state congressional delegation representing our regional interests. Spotlight Greater KC is your Chamber’s effort to take full advantage of that.

If you’d like to take a look at the Spotlight agenda, click here. For a list of congressional staffers attending, click here.

Tragedy in Joplin

May 24, 2011

May 24, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

The wrenching coverage of the Joplin tornado disaster was especially personal for me – I was born not far from there and still have family and friends in the area.  As so many are doing, I pray for those whose lives have been lost or shattered.

The response we’ve seen from Kansas City reinforces what we already knew about our community – our citizenry is both compassionate and generous.  We’ve posted a list of ways you can help…and we hope you will. 

There are three stages in any disaster:

  • Preparation – the kind of training exhibited, for example, by the staff at Joplin’s St. John’s  Medical Center, who quickly moved their patients into the hallways and away from broken glass.
  • Search & rescue – the heartbreaking, occasionally joyful, efforts we’re seeing now, as first responders work through rain and hail and lightning to – hopefully – find survivors.
  • Recovery – the third phase and often the most difficult.  As the story moves off the front pages, the citizens of Joplin will try to put the pieces back together again.

Right now, Joplin is still in stage 2 – search and rescue.  As the city enters the recovery phase, the community will still need our help.  We’re staying in close touch with the Joplin Chamber and other Missouri Chambers to see what we can do once the television cameras and reporters move on to the next story.

We’ll keep you posted.

Bring Your Ideas to the Conversation

May 17, 2011

May 17, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

The “Big 5” ideas we’re getting from around the community are simply great. Chamber Chair Greg Graves (Burns & McDonnell) and I are asking this question: If you were CEO of Greater Kansas City, what would be your five big, attainable, and specific goals be?

As Greg is fond of saying, “My company has goals. Your company has goals. What are the goals for ‘Big KC’?” 

We know that our region is unique, with more governmental jurisdictions per capita than most. We’re asking people to erase those lines on the map in their heads, and think about what we might accomplish if we worked on something together. 

The general public – on both sides of the state line – looks to business first for solutions to the challenges facing us.  That was the finding of the bistate voters’ survey The Chamber conducted for its 2010 Governors’ Summit.  That same survey found that voters in both Missouri and Kansas believe the lack of bistate political leadership and cooperation is holding the area back. 

That’s the impetus behind The Chamber’s Big 5 initiative.  As the region’s Chamber  – and in the absence of any overarching political leadership – The Chamber is playing a role few can.  We’re collecting ideas from individuals and various constituencies and, once the Big 5 are determined, will serve as the convener of those willing to commit to each of the goals.

The state line may cause us problems elsewhere, but how can we work together above the state line to move our region forward and improve our quality of life. 

I encourage you to see what other people are saying and to add your own ideas. If there’s an idea you agree with, feel free to expand on it. Remember, we’re looking for thoughts both specific and tangible…so have at it!


Time Flies When You’re Getting to Work

April 26, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

April 26, 2011 

Hard to believe, but last week I celebrated my first anniversary as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.  The adage “time flies” is certainly appropriate in this case!

It’s been a busy year – the earnings tax election, the mayor’s race, legislative trips to Jeff City and Topeka, support for the KCMO School District, launching the “Big 5,” celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Small Business Celebration, adding exciting new programming for minority business development, and, of course, the move to Union Station…just to name a few of the items on our agenda this past year.  Plus the 300 plus meetings and events The Chamber hosts annually. 

I’ve enjoyed it all, especially meeting or getting reacquainted with so many wonderful Chamber members.  The passion you feel for your businesses and the efforts you put toward bettering our community are impressive.

That community spirit is something that sets this Chamber of Commerce apart from many of its counterparts.  As I’ve met with other Chamber leaders this past year – both locally and nationally – I’ve realized that the Greater Kansas City Chamber falls under the somewhat rare category of a ‘civic progress’ Chamber:  one that focuses on both growing its member businesses, but also one that is constantly striving to improve the economy and quality of life for the region which we serve.

That’s the spirit behind The Chamber’s “Big 5.”  We all recognize that the state line dividing Missouri and Kansas often holds us back.   There’s no over-arching political leadership that can speak to the needs of the entire metropolitan area.  No goals, no plan, no strategy. 

This past year, I’ve been asked numerous times what I’d like most to accomplish as I’ve taken on this new role.  My answer:  I wish I had a magic wand I could wave and make the state line disappear. 

No such luck.

Instead, we’ve decided to go above the state line. We’re asking you to answer this question:  What should our priorities be as a region? What can we, should we, accomplish together?

We’ve been hosting meetings all over town with a wide variety of groups to get their answers to that question, and we’re reaching out online to get still more ideas. (Click here to post your ideas or to see what others are suggesting.)

The goals have to be specific and doable, and the suggestions so far have been thoughtful and often exciting:  end child hunger in the metro; create a two-week arts festival (a la the Edinburgh Festival) to promote the region’s many and varied arts offerings; target a center city zip code and bring the resources necessary to improve the quality of life there; make KC a Mecca for entrepreneurial business development; become a center of excellence for life sciences research. 

The final “Big 5” list will be adopted by The Chamber Board and shared with Governors Nixon and Brownback at our fall Governors’ Summit.  We may have specific requests of each, or we may ask them to just make sure the states stay out of our way. 

The cynics are already shaking their heads.  They’ve seen this before, they say, and there are tons of reports gathering dust on shelves all over the city. 

We’ll let them have their cynicism.  Meanwhile, with your help and input, we’re getting to work.

Thank you, KCMO. Voters Approve E-Tax by a Landslide.

April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

Jubilation and relief were the primary emotions Tuesday night in The Chamber’s Board Room as we celebrated the overwhelming vote in favor of keeping Kansas City, Missouri’s biggest source of revenue – the one percent earnings tax.

The final unofficial tally was 78 percent in favor of retention; 22 percent against.  It was a vote that truly united the city, winning in all corners of the community. 

It was a hard-fought campaign, masterfully coordinated by Pat Gray and his team.  A total of 100 business, civic, labor, neighborhood, and religious organizations from throughout the city came together to endorse and support the effort. 

And KCMO voters got the message.  They understood the ramifications of losing $200 million a year from the part of the city budget that pays for police and fire protection and for the basic services our residents require. 

They understood this election was of critical importance to the health and future of their city.  Mayor-Elect Sly James may not have taken office yet, but he has already shown great leadership.  His own campaign for mayor over, he jumped right into the effort to “Keep KC Alive,” campaigning tirelessly for retention of the tax.   He is bringing an energy and a view of Kansas City’s future that is inspiring – a sentiment, I suggest, that is shared by Kansas City voters.

Appreciation and thanks to the hard-working cochairs of this campaign:  Don Hall, Jr., head of Hallmark Cards; civic activists Anita Gorman and Dianne Cleaver; former deputy chief Vince Ortega; and Norine Accurso,  Mayor Pro Tem of the Kansas City Silver Hair City Council.  A special nod, as well, to The Chamber’s Senior Vice-President for Government Relations, Kristi Wyatt, who worked tirelessly as well.  

I’m proud that your Chamber played a key role in this election.  As soon as Proposition A – the statewide measure requiring this vote – passed last November, we mobilized a core group that included the Civic Council, AFL-CIO, firefighters, and the Heavy Constructors.  We knew after the November vote that a lot of education was going to be required.

That small group quickly expanded to a diverse and determined city-wide effort to keep this important source of revenue.  All that hard work has paid off.

We all won Tuesday night.  Thank you, Kansas City.

From My Window

March 14, 2011

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

March 14, 2011

When I sit down at my desk, usually rushing in from a meeting or two, the view out my tall south window always gives me pause. 

Since The Chamber’s move to Union Station, I’ve seen Liberty Memorial in snow and rain and sunshine.  With snow on the ground, I’ve watched people sled-riding down the long hill north of the memorial, while on warmer days, they’re climbing the hill from Pershing Road up to the memorial.  

The grounds were designed by fabled landscape architect George Kessler, as part of his “City Beautiful” design for Kansas City, Missouri’s parks and boulevard system.  The site across from Union Station was chosen for the memorial because it would be the first thing visitors to Kansas City would see as they emerged from the train station. 

From my window, I also see a very busy parking lot, with lots of people coming and going at the Station.

As 2010 Chamber Chair Peter deSilva (UMB) said when he announced our move to Union Station, we hoped our decision, along with the Kansas City Area Development Council, would spur more development at Union Station. It certainly seems as if the beautiful and iconic building’s heart is beating more strongly these days.

There’s a good tenant mix:  in addition to The Chamber and KCADC, there’s a very busy post office, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, the International Visitors Council, UMKC, and the KCMO Election Board (which has been seeing its share of activity lately).

The Chamber’s lovely new Board Room has been keeping busy, too.  Just in the last week, we’ve hosted a mayoral debate with Mike Burke and Sly James with 150 people in attendance; another 100+ attended an informative session on new health care regulations; KCADC held its monthly board meeting; and we had a private reception for our 119 Small Business candidates.  We’re creating a lot of foot traffic.

The dinosaurs attracted thousands of visitors and the Princess Diana exhibit is expected to do well.  During the week, there’s a steady stream of schoolchildren headed for Science City.  Amtrak and the transit stop in the West Carriage Pavilion bring in visitors and commuters.  And The Link connects the station with Crown Center. 

Speaking of Science City, that institution will see $1 million in improvements, thanks to a generous contribution from the Burns & McDonnell Foundation. Chamber Chair Greg Graves, CEO and Chairman of the engineering firm, made the announcement at a crowded Science City news conference.

Greg is passionate about math and science education and says he wants the next Thomas Edison to be an American.  He explains it beautifully in his interview on ChamberTV.  The gift was in celebration of Burns & McDonnell’s 25th year as an employee-owned corporation. 

Another notable development:  the opening of Harvey’s, the new restaurant in the old Union Café space.  Operated by Brancato’s, Harvey’s is open for breakfast and lunch, from 7:00 to 3:30.  Michael George, formerly of Dean and DeLuca, has put together a menu using local ingredients – Boulevard Beer in the cheese soup, for example.  And, of course, Brancato’s sausage. 

I also need to mention Pierpont’s – a wonderful place for lunch, dinner, and cocktails. 

All of this activity has been fun to watch.  Congratulations to Union Station Chair Mike Haverty, his board of directors, and President George Guastello in returning vibrancy to Union Station.   We enjoy being a part of it, and your vision, hard work, and difficult decisions are paying off.

It’s great to be at Union Station and if you haven’t visited us yet, we hope you will soon.

A Successful Year

December 20, 2010

December 20, 2010

Chamber President and CEO James A. Heeter

They say change is inevitable (and healthy), and 2010 has certainly been a change-filled (and exciting) year for your Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce!

  • As the year closes, we’re settling into our new office space at the architectural treasure that is Union Station.  What an extraordinary space in which to hold our many events and meetings. 

We’re open for business and located on the third floor, southwest side.  Meanwhile on the east side of the Station, construction continues on The Board Room, with great care being taken of the historic elements of the old Harvey House space.  When it’s finished, it will be a marvelous blend of the old coupled with new, state-of-the-art technology.

Save this date on your new calendar:  January 27, 5:00 to 7:00, Business After Hours at Union Station.  We’ll be holding an open house and invite you to join us!

  • Our survey of regional voters for the 2010 Governors’ Summit showed they looked to the business community for leadership on critical issues.  Their number one concern was job creation and the economy; they were way ahead of their political leaders on the importance of regional cooperation; and were critical of elected leadership, especially that of Kansas City, Missouri.  More…
  • The Chamber successfully supported the progressive slate of candidates in April’s school board elections in the Kansas City, Missouri school district.  That effort was preceded by organizing a strong show of business and community support behind School Superintendent John Covington’s right-sizing plan.

There has been much more:

 Our work on retaining KCMO’s e-tax began with the Board’s decision last March.  We’re now in the middle of organizing a formal campaign effort geared to the April election.  The Chamber’s political action committee has been interviewing KCMO mayoral candidates with a decision to come soon as to whom BizPAC will support.  And we held more than 300 committee meetings, networking events, forums, and other events during the year.

I’d especially like to thank those of you who have been both welcoming and supportive as I’ve taken on my new role as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Kansas City Chamber. It’s been an interesting and delightful journey so far.  I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. 

In the meantime, I wish you the happiest of holidays!


Adele Hall, Marie Farrell, and the Greek Goddess Athena

October 19, 2010

President and CEO James A. Heeter

October 19, 2010

The Chamber celebrated all three – Adele, Marie, and the goddess of wisdom – at a lovely reception held on an equally lovely evening at Boulevard Brewery last week.

It was our annual ATHENA Award Ceremony honoring an individual who has a strong record of achievement, community service, and who actively assists women in realizing their full leadership potential.  The ATHENA Award program includes more than 375 U.S. cities and has recognized more than 6,000 women and men. 

Thanks to Chamber Board member Dave Fowler and KPMG, a second award was presented this year – the ATHENA Young Professionals Leadership Award.  This award is given to an emerging leader who:

  •  demonstrates excellence, creativity, and initiative in their profession;
  • Provides service by contributing time and energy to improve the community’s quality of life; and
  • Clearly serves as a role model for young women personally and professionally.

 Adele Hall and Marie Farrell are both exemplary women and certainly deserving of their awards.

Adele’s record of community service speaks for itself.  I’m not sure there’s a community board she hasn’t served on.  She was one of the 12 originating members of the Central Exchange, and her philanthropic efforts extend across the metro, with a particular focus on women and children.

Marie Farrell works for Past Chair Anne St. Peter’s firm, Global Prairie.  Marie is an alum of The Chamber’s Centurions Leadership Program, is a well-known communications professional in the life sciences community, and is a mentor to many young women.

It was a delightful evening honoring two outstanding Kansas City women.  Our thanks again to Dave Fowler and KPMG.  And another tip ‘o’ the hat to KCUMB and Dr. Danny Weaver.  KCUMB is the original and continuing sponsor of the ATHENA Award. 

For a bio of this year’s ATHENA award winner, click here.

For a bio of this year’s ATHENA young professional award winner, click here.

For a list of past ATHENA award winners, click here.

For a photo gallery of the 2010 ATHENA Awards reception, click here.