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Education is Key for KC’s Economic Future

July 22, 2014

by Jeff Pinkerton

Everyone knows there are three laws of real estate: location, location, location. Our data suggests there should be similar laws for economic development: education, education, education.

All metropolitan areas, including Kansas City, compete with each other  for future economic growth and development. We have a number of fine economic development organizations throughout the region that work to sell prospective businesses on the benefits of relocating to the Kansas City metro. These development agencies often tout our quality of life and our central location, and state and local governments sometimes offer tax or training benefits to help bring businesses to the region.

Increasingly, however, businesses depend on a talented workforce to grow. The availability of talented workers will trump other amenities. Without the right workers, businesses can’t succeed, no matter what the quality of life is or how low the taxes are.

Kansas City is competitive in terms of overall educational attainment. One third of the region’s adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 29 percent nationwide. However, there are other metros with significantly higher levels of educational attainment.

The chart below shows how Kansas City ranks against all large metros in the country in terms of educational attainment (vertical axis). And, as is typical, Kansas City is right in the middle (19th out of the 52 metros with a population of at least 1 million).

But what is most noteworthy about the chart is the relationship between education and income. The higher your level of educational attainment, the higher your median household income. Sure, there are other factors at work, but the line in this graph provides strong, if not surprising, evidence of the correlation between education and income.

Education and IncomeThe Kansas City region was recently selected to participate in Lumina Foundation’s Community Partnership for Attainment strategy. MARC and other partners will  work with Lumina to develop plans to improve postsecondary attainment in the community. Lumina will provide significant technical and planning assistance, data tools, and a modest amount of flexible funding, helping the region customize attainment plans that best suit needs. Planning work is currently in progress with local partners and a two-year implementation process will begin this fall.

If we want Kansas City to continue to grow and become more competitive on the global stage, we will need more and more talented workers. Anything we can do to raise the bar on educational attainment will be well worth the effort.

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