Lee’s Summit is entering a new era of economic development and city leaders are working on a plan for creating jobs and a stable community.
The Community and Economic Development Committee met this month as it gathers information to be used in creating that strategic plan. It heard comments from leaders of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce and Lee’s Summit R-7 School District.
“Our heyday is done, the low-hanging fruit is gone,” said Jim Devine, president and CEO of the LSEDC, presenting his view of the city’s future to the committee.
He said SummitWoods Crossing and Summit Fair have filled the need for major commercial shopping centers and the likely prospects for development are in the sectors of offices and data centers, and many small businesses.
Devine predicts that redevelopment is the area where the city must focus to improve its tax base and asked the committee to keep that in mind when creating its strategic plan.
Mosby asked Devine for a one-sentence summary of his vision.
Devine said, “We have enough tax revenue to pay of the levels of services that citizens expect.”
Mosby also read a letter from David McGehee, R-7 superintendent, who could not be at the meeting. McGehee said in his letter that school official’s support broadening the tax base to include more commercial property and redevelopment efforts.
But he urged the city to carefully consider the impact on schools when using tools such as enterprise zones and the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority.
“This consideration should not be dependent upon who is leading the efforts but rather be embedded in policy and practice, established as an expected culture of collaboration when it comes to economic development,” McGehee said. “Leaders will come and go, but the importance of protecting the school district’s ability to serve the community should always be a pillar of the economic development discussion.”
Economic development is a community process, Devine said. It involves understanding what projects residents will accept and what levels of service to set.
He cited Legoland as an example of a high impact proposal that could have changed the character of Lee’s Summit and residents were sharply divided on whether to build the amusement park.
“There are ways to get there, but will the community want them, I don’t know,” Devine said.
Devine said much of development in Lee’s Summit’s future would result from “public/private investments” that would be complex and the city will need to be flexible, almost always making “case-by-case” decisions. Most opportunities, in that climate, he said, will be for smaller businesses.
“It will be a small ground game, day to day,” Devine said.
Committee members asked if executives seeking locations for companies perceived the city as pro business. Devine said it depends on what night someone is watching the City Council.
“We’re perceived as pro-development and other times as anti-development, or squirrely about development,” Devine said. “How we manage that reputation is important.”
Devine said big companies don’t care about the small stuff, but small to mid-size businesses do. He said city staffs need to understand that “people are customers” and “our guys here do, I believe that,” Devine said.
Devine said he sees the city and private organizations as both being necessary because no single entity can have its “ear to the ground” enough to do the job alone. Combining efforts produces the maximum return for the city, he said.
Mark Dickey, vice president of the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Devine’s assessment. Dickey said the city has done a great job in planning and strategizing so far, giving examples of the Unity annexation and the Missouri 150 Corridor, but noted there is more work to be done.
“There are a lot of plans in place that are moving us forward,” Dickey said.
A study made of the U.S. 50 Corridor years ago needs to be reexamined and updated, he said.
Dickey said that 87 percent of chamber member businesses have 10 employees or less. The city should look at challenges small business owners face as they take property through redevelopment.
“Are we truly customer oriented?” Dickey asked. He said the council should examine if upfront expenses are appropriate for development the city would like to see, particularly for small businesses
“Do we consider ourselves an entrepreneurial community?” he said.
Dickey said Lee’s Summit could benefit from lessons learned in Boulder, Colo. which were outlined in a book Startup Communities by Brad Feld, which was a baseline study of the city’s economic development. Boulder was mostly sleepy ski resort and college town.
“Not today,” Dickey said. “They embraced the entrepreneurial spirit.”
It was not easy and took a long time, but Boulder landed a large number of high-tech and industry leading firms, from a division of IBM Corp. to Whole Foods, Oracle, Amgen, and many others, including 100 smaller satellite companies to support them.
“Thirty years ago none of them were there, not one,” Dickey said.
He said creating a culture where entrepreneurs were encouraged and have mentors is one key ingredient.
He said Boost Lee’s Summit, a program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, was an initiative to help local entrepreneurs, and is getting noticed elsewhere. He said about 150 people attended its kick-off event, about half from outside Lee’s Summit. It now has members from 14 different states. He said he got a call from an executive company that owns 600 radio stations, wants to do interviews about Boost Lee’s Summit.
“There are people out there in other states kicking the tires, they’re looking at Lee’s Summit,” Dickey said.
He said the committee also should hear from leaders of higher education, such as the University of Central Missouri, that also will be key to future development.
Dickey said his vision includes a strong community culture for encouraging and mentoring entrepreneurs.
“Sponsor and encourage the entrepreneurial spirt,” Dickey said “With that anything can be done.”