We’re not in Kansas anymore? Royals’ hometown boasts strengthening economy

The third game of the the World Series tonight moves to Queens, with the Kansas City Royals so far dominating, two games to none over the New York Mets. And while this face-off between metro and wholesome Midwest underlies cities with two very different economies and cultures, they both sport strong growth.

Although the hometown of the Mets is known as a hotbed of business, Kansas City, Missouri boasts strong growth across industries, including auto and even tech.

Kansas City, the 37th largest city in the nation with a population of about 470,000, has seen a marked recovery in the unemployment rate, dropping to 4.4% from over 9% during the recession, when industrial sectors were hit hard.

In comments shared during an event on Friday, Kansas City Fed President Esther L. Geroge highlighted that “we have been fortunate to see a labor market that has healed fairly rapidly.” The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City covers the 10th District of the Federal Reserve.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James told Yahoo Finance that while the city has traditionally been dominated by the auto industry, second only to Detroit, he has seen strong growth across healthcare, financial services, and especially technology.

After all, Kansas City was the first city to roll out Google’s (GOOGL) fiber network. “Google put us in the spotlight with an entirely different set of people — the young, technical crowd, millennials, businesses that need broadband, and creative types,” James says.

This has led to further technological inroads for the city, including a recent partnership with Cisco Systems (CSCO) on the connected city. And increased efforts to boost entrepreneurship by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, founded by the late former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman, respresents other areas of focus for the city. Goodbye Silicon Valley and hello Silicon Prairie?

James says, though, that this isn’t about Kansas City catching up to other cities. “We have our own rhythm, charm and style. We know who we are and we’re not trying to be anyone else,” he says.

As for cost of living? “It’s very reasonable,” a fact that has attracted a growing number of millennials to the city. In a survey conducted earlier this year by home finance agency Fannie Mae, millennials are following the jobs to secondary cities where the cost of living is significantly lower than hubs like New York City.

David Kemper, CEO of Commerce Bancshares (CBSH), which has served as the bank for the Royals since they were an expansion team in 1969, didn’t shy away from highlighting strong trends he sees in the Royals’ hometown, citing a real renaissance underway with residential buildings sprouting up in the downtown area.

“Our loans are up 7% from a year ago and we continue to have wage growth in the third quarter,” Kemper says. “We aren’t without our challenges—particularly agriculture and commodities—but overall it’s a good healthy economy with a competitive rent structure and cost of living. We never have the extreme ups and downs.” 

And many of the companies with headquarters in Kansas City have been very technologically focused. Look no further than Cerner (CERN), the healthcare information technology company. Cerner was named one of Forbes’ most innovative companies last year, as it has led the charge in electronic health records. Tax services provider HR Block (HRB), also based in Kansas City, has also been investing heavily in technological initiatives, along with fellow-Missouri name DST Systems (DST), providing information process and software services.

And business leaders in the city are out in full force to root on their team. Pat Ottensmeyer, president of Kansas City Southern (KSU), whose railroad network is largely exposed to the growing Mexican economy long-term, says he’s cautiously ready for victory: “We are humble Midwesterners, so we are not taking anything for granted.  As New York legend Yogi Berra once said, ‘It aint over till it’s over,’ but….we really like our chances!” 

One cohort certainly hoping for a longer and more competitive series? Television networks, which have seen World Series viewership decline dramatically. While Tuesday’s 14-inning opener became the most-watched Game 1 in five years, baseball viewing has fallen, with last year’s Series averaging just under 14 million viewers, well below ratings of about 35 million two decades ago, according to Nielsen data. The 24-hour news cycle and endless Internet options, along with the rise of the NFL and the increasing popularity of football fantasy leagues, have all contributed to the decline. To put it in perspective, Super Bowl XLIX last February attracted 114 million viewers.

And when it comes to expenditures, the Mets and Royals represent teams in the bottom half of league payrolls this season. The Royals, owned by former Walmart (WMT) CEO David Glass, didn’t have a payroll above $100 million until this season. And while New York represents a large market, the team has embraced a small-market strategy. Mets owner Fred Wilpon had invested in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme; after its 2008 collapse, the team’s finances were impacted. It seems the low payroll, talent development, and strategic acquisitions from competition has paid off.


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