Think Made In KC When You Go Shopping
by Richard Shipley
What is it about Kansas City that we all love? Is it the cars, trucks and lawnmowers that we build? Is it the ever-growing list of writers and artists? Maybe it’s the food, both in the stores and in our restaurants. Or, is it the people? Got to be the people, right? But what is the connection between the people and our economy?
Every vehicle, every bar of soap each food product that is made here in KC is much more than just another product on a shelf. It’s a connection. A connection to our community, a connection to the people and their careers, their families. The people who make these products are not faceless and half a world away; they live here. Some of our kids could go to school together. They could be at the next Sporting KC match. We probably pass some of them on the highway each day.
When we buy the products that the people in our community make, we are linked to them. But what is made here? What can you and I buy at the store to support our neighbors and build a stronger, more vibrant local economy?
Until recently, there wasn’t a resource to find these products, so we developed Made in KC, an online catalog of retail products from Greater Kansas City and the surrounding area. Companies and brands listed on this site are headquartered here and/or produced here. This may be or may
not be a very different way of looking at “local” for some of us. Remember that we now live in a world where products and services are moved and used across the globe in ways never before seen.
So, in a world like this, what is local? What is the definition of made? On this site, you will find brands that are designed here but made elsewhere, made here but designed elsewhere and both designed here and made here. Their connection is that they are all tied to Kansas City through the people that they employ. It’s available online through our site, http://www.LocalStart.org, and as an app on the android platform. (Apple users, give us a sec, we’re workin’ on it.)
Let’s take a closer look at the complexity of products from KC by looking at some clothing companies. Lee Jeans was founded by Henry David Lee in Salina back in 1889 and now resides in Merriam. Lee’s products are not produced here, but they are headquartered here and employ sales, marketing and designers. Camp David Apparel, headquartered in Overland Park, doesn’t produce its garments here but does all the design work and emblem work here, so the garments are only part of their overall product. Baldwin Denim, whose brick and mortar store is in Leawood, designs its denim pants here, manufactures them in a warehouse in California, then hems and fits them to each customer here in KC. Then we have christianMICHEAL who was nominated for “Best Local Designer” in 2008 by KC Magazine. He, like many local fashion designers, designs and produces his garments here in KC
With this sample, ’’ts clear that KC is home to a diverse range of company sizes, but how do we support the growth of our hometown and encourage job creation? Perhaps the same way we, as a nation, have encouraged social changes in the market in the past, by voting with our dollars.
So, picture this: you’re at the store and you need some coffee. I know I always seem to. But what is made in KC? You pop out your phone and open the Made in KC app or site, search coffee, and get a list of local coffee roasters. The first thing you will notice is that there are more roasters listed than available at the store — I’ve yet to find a grocer that carries all of them — but after a moment, you find a brand that is made here and you’re off. Later when you’re drinking it, you take a moment to reflect on the subtle reality that the few dollars that were spent on the product made here instead of elsewhere is fueling the livelihood of someone who lives here, someone who — like you — has chosen KC as home. And you bought it from a company that may have sponsored the last 5k race you ran or that festival you took your family to.
So, jeans and coffee are great but what else is made here? Warm weather is (hopefully) here, so how about lawnmowers? Look under the Lawn and Garden category and you will find Billy Goat Industries and Swisher Mower & Machine Co. Billy Goat produces a self-propelled outdoor vacuum that, last fall, I know, would have saved me time raking leaves.
Speaking of warm weather, it won’t be long before folks will be heading to the lakes for a little weekend R&R. Tracker Boats builds the Nitro out in Clinton, Mo., and that Z9 model looks like a nice way to pull in a large-mouth bass. Maybe take that bass home and serve it with something from Original Juan, cook it up in a skillet from Vita Craft Corporation with some Fiesta Juan’s Salsa and throw it into one of Mama Lupe’s Little Guy Tortillas with some shredded cheese from Alma Creamery. Even top it off with a little sour cream from Belfonte. So, now we have the fish tacos, what do we wash them down with? Most of us know Boulevard Brewing Co could cover us on that, but so could Free State Brewing Company who, according to The Pitch, just added a new bottling plant east of Lawrence. We could take the tacos outside for a picnic or have them inside at a kitchen table from Polivka Studio. All in all, it sounds like a great way to spend the weekend — both having a good time and supporting growth in our local economy.
My name is Richard W. Shipley and I founded LocalStart.org in fall 2011 in direct response to the Great Recession. We are a nonprofit organization working on local economic development and job creation in the Greater Kansas City and the surrounding area. We believe that Kansas City has all the elements needed to show the world how to operate a smarter, more sustainable local economy. We’re here to take “Buy Local” to the next level, not only by discussing why voting with our dollars is important, but also by building tools to do it with. Made in KC is our flagship project and we hope you find it useful the next time you go to the store. Visit us online at www.LocalStart.org and see our other projects, too.