Friday, April 20, 2012

Mayors stress education in KCKCC forum


If Kansas City is going to continue to move forward into the 21st Century, education must be the vehicle.

That was the consensus of the mayors of Kansas City’s three largest cities in a public forum attended by Sly James, Kansas City, Mo.; Carl Gerlach, Overland Park; and Joe Reardon, Unified Government of KCK/Wyandotte County at Kansas City Kansas Community College Tuesday.  

“I just came back from a meeting of mayors from all over the nation and every single one, from San Francisco to New York, from Houston to Chicago, said education is it,” James told a crowd of more than 100 students, staff, faculty and members of the community at the forum hosted by KCKCC’s Economics Club and Intercultural Center. “It is imperative for the development of a city that we have educated people.”

“Education is the key,” agreed Gerlach, who said incentives are not the No. 1 reason new businesses have been attracted to Overland Park. “It’s probably only fourth or fifth. We’ve only given incentives to eight businesses. The No. 1 reason is quality education, a good workforce followed by a good infrastructure, ways to get to and from work. And also public safety. They want to feel safe.”

Reardon said education is of particular importance in KCK because of the coming of the Cerner Corporation and 4,000 new jobs and Sara Lee, the largest meat slicing company in the U.S.

“Sara Lee has 250 jobs and nobody ever touches the meat,” said Reardon.

James also noted that in the past most people were in the middle class but now an education is needed to be in the middle class and it is those in the middle class who are least likely to lose their jobs.

All three mayors also stressed a need for regionalism, emphasizing the biggest competitors for new businesses is not among cities here in Kansas City but cities such as St. Louis, Omaha and Oklahoma City.

“Not a single mayor is doing something contrary to other cities,” said Reardon, “although the media does not share that side of the story.”

“People don’t know it because there are no newspaper reporters or TV cameras but the three of us meet every month,” said Gerlach. “I had our public relations department look up the things we work on cooperatively and it takes 12 pages.”

James said the Kansas City metro area is No. 29 economically in the country.

“We need to go together,” stressed James. “We need a plan if our region is going to grow. We need to put all our assets on the table. The worst thing we can do is nothing.”

Pointing out that Kansas City, Mo., has 6,600 miles of streets to plow (“all the way to San Diego and back”), James said “As mayors we get it but not so much in Washington. We are on the front line whether it be that your street hasn’t been plowed, your trash picked up or the lack of jobs. We get it.”

All three mayors had ties to Wyandotte County. James was born in KCK and lived here until the age of nine while Gerlach’s father-in-law, the late Dr. Jack Flint, was the first president of KCKCC.

“I love community colleges,” said Gerlach. “I have a son and a daughter who both went to community colleges.”

The mayoral program was coordinated by Dr. Mehdi Shariati, a professor of Social Science and Economics Club advisor; and Barbara Clark-Evans, Director of the Intercultural Center who moderated the program.


PHOTO: More than 100 students, faculty, staff and community members turned out at Kansas City Kansas Community College for a program featuring (from left) Mayors Carl Gerlach, Overland Park; Sly James, Kansas City, Mo.; and Joe Reardon, KCK, stress the need for education. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)