Forget St. Louis: Kansas City Keeps Indianapolis In Its Sights

Apr 25, 2016

When it comes to metros that Kansas City considers its competition for business, population growth, conventions and prestige: Forget about St. Louis. We left that rivalry behind in the last century.

People whose job it is to keep KC competitive point to Nashville, Denver, Charlotte, Minneapolis and Louisville as among our chief 21st century opponents.

And if there’s one place that stands out as a metro we compete with, it’s Indianapolis.  Many of us remember the sting when the National Collegiate Athletic Association relocated its headquarters from Kansas City to Indy in 1997.

And if current trends continue, the Indianapolis area may surpass metro Kansas City in population by 2020.  

Kansas City was the 30th largest metro in the U.S. with an estimated 2.1 million residents in 2015, according to the Census, while Indianapolis ranked 34th with 2 million people.  But Indy’s metro population grew an estimated 5.25 percent between 2010 and 2015 while KC’s increased 3.89 percent.

In the meantime, metro St. Louis was ranked 20th in 2015 with an estimated 2.8 million people and a five-year growth rate of just .86 percent. In 1970, the St. Louis area was the 10th largest with 2.36 million residents.

“From my perspective, when we’re competing with other markets for business it’s a rarity when we compete with St. Louis,” says Tim Cowden, the president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council. “Typically, if we’re competing for headquarters, technology and upper-end businesses, we compete with markets like Nashville, Indianapolis, Dallas-Fort Worth, the Twin Cities and the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle.”

That sounds familiar to Ronnie Burt, the president and CEO of VisitKC. He counts Indianapolis, Nashville, Louisville and Minneapolis as cities he considers competition for convention business.

Joe Reardon, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, says his organization has been investigating communities it considers sources for ideas since 2003 through its Leadership Exchange program.

“These are cities doing things we want to understand in a deeper way,” Reardon says.

The group visited Denver in 2008 and the Silicon Valley two years ago.

“The cities we compete with are mid-size cities generally oriented to the Midwest, Indianapolis, Nashville, Minneapolis and I think Dallas-Fort Worth is also one we compete with,” he says.

As for St. Louis, Reardon says he sees that region more as a partner these days than a competitor, calling both “engines for growth” in Missouri.

“It’s human nature in many ways to think of competition as a place close by you can see and know,” he says. “I think it’s purposeful to look far beyond us. We can start to look at St. Louis as a region to work with cooperatively.”

Kerrie Tyndall, director of economic development for Kansas City, says Indianapolis, Charlotte and Oklahoma City were identified as peer cities in a “competitive snapshot” included in the AdvanceKC initiative in 2012.

“With economic issues, we need a more national and global outlook regarding cities we want to emulate,” she says.

Cowden says Kansas City’s strengths include its affordability and comfortable lifestyle: “Kansas City is a major league city without the hassle of major league markets.”

In recent years, Kansas City also has gotten good national buzz as being a place to live for millennials.

“Kansas City has an ‘it’ factor, it’s hot,” Cowden says. “We’re considered very attractive to young people out of college and young families.”

Burt says the revival of downtown in recent years has contributed to the city’s improved reputation as a convention destination.

“Kansas City has invested in rebuilding its downtown, and there’s a lot of community pride and passion because of the resurgence,” he says.

If there’s one thing experts agree on that would help Kansas City better compete with its rival cities, its improving air service. That includes support for a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport as well as more flights.

“People get the perception of our city from their sense of arrival, starting with KCI,” Burt says.

When Kansas City goes up against larger markets such as Dallas and Denver, Cowden says, air service comes up, particularly international flights.

“We can get to most markets, but frequency of flights is an observation,” he says, “and we’re out of the game for direct international service.”

This story is part of KCUR’s series called 30/30 Vision, in which we’re examining Kansas City’s past to reimagine its future.

Kevin Collison is a free-lance contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @kckansascity.