As a European living in the United States, one of the things that have often struck me about this country is its decentralized nature.
No city has a monopoly on American commercial, cultural or political life in the way that London dominates the United Kingdom or Paris dominates France. Instead, the United States is a mosaic of many great cities – each with its own global profile and potential for development.
Kansas City is one of these great American cities. When I first moved here in 2007, I was impressed by the vibrant business community, cultural life and sheer energy of the city. And the Midwestern values and agricultural roots of the region reminded me of my native Denmark.
These features were some of the reasons why my company, Grundfos, chose to locate our North American headquarters in the Kansas City area. And we have not been disappointed. In fact, we have added more than 60 employees in our facilities just this year.
At Grundfos, we pride ourselves of our global footprint as well as our strong commitment to local communities. As the world’s leading manufacturer of pumps, we have to invest across the globe to stay competitive. But as a privately held company, we take the long view and stay committed to the communities that we invest in. We would rather help local communities and companies stay competitive than close shop and move on to the next low-cost location.
As a case in point, take Peerless Pump, an Indianapolis-based company acquired by Grundfos in 2007. Before the acquisition, Peerless was exporting a minor part of its products. Today, the number has multiplied significantly due to the global reach and research capabilities of Grundfos.
Unfortunately, the Peerless story has not been the typical story of American manufacturing and the Midwest economy in the past few decades. Instead, the dominant narrative has been about manufacturing plants closing in a region that many outsiders refer to in condescending terms such as “fly-over country”.
This negative narrative poses a major challenge for Midwestern cities such as Kansas City. Many Europeans or Asians would not be able to place our city on a map. When foreign observers think of growth and innovation in America, they think of Silicon Valley, New York City and maybe life science clusters such as Boston.
The hard numbers tell a different story, however. With population growth of 10.85 percent during the past decade, the Kansas City metropolitan area grew more than the national average of 9.7 percent and much more than mega-cities such as New York (3.13 percent), Los Angeles (3.75 percent) and Chicago (3.99 percent) as well as Boston (3.67 percent) and San Francisco (5.13 percent).
Kansas City is a great place to live and invest. The cost of living is low, the education system is excellent, and there are plenty of recreational opportunities. This is probably why so many people are moving here.
Yet the Kansas City success story is not well known outside the United States, maybe not even outside the Midwest. To fully harness the power of globalization, we must change the pessimistic narrative and build a truly global brand. We must change the global perception of Kansas City from “fly-over country” to a fly-to destination at the top of the list for international travelers and investors. Direct flights from Kansas City to Europe and Asia should be a top priority for our economic development – both as a branding tool and a concrete way to attract more international investors.
Kansas City has the potential to become a global gateway to the Midwest at par with a city like Chicago. And the Midwest is where much of the future growth of the American economy will take place. As a representative of a manufacturing company, I see great potential for a renaissance in the Midwestern manufacturing sector. For years, globalization has been seen as a threat to American manufacturing, but American products will become ever more competitive as living standards continue to rise in emerging economies, creating vast new markets for our products.
As a major transportation hub right in the middle of the United States, Kansas City could become the leading city in this emerging manufacturing comeback. What better way to claim our rightful place in the mosaic of great American cities?
By Jes Munk Hansen, regional managing director of Grundfos North America. Hansen joined the board of directors of the Kansas City Area Development Council on Nov. 4.