Ryan is growing the region’s tech ecosystem as President of KCnext. His background in recruiting angel investors to KC is serving him well as he shifts his focus to attracting tech companies and a growing workforce.
When did the need for a dedicated technology council become apparent?
In 2009, the Kansas City Area Development Council (KCADC) created KCnext after being approached by a small group of tech leaders. KCADC was having a lot of success attracting numerous companies to Kansas City. However, none of these new firms were tech companies. Knowing there was a sizeable tech industry in Kansas City, the KCADC marketing team created KCnext as an industry-led marketing initiative to highlight the industry in our region, similar to how they created the Animal Health Corridor and KC SmartPort in the past.
Fast forward a few years to 2011, and KCADC acquired SITAKS, a tech association based in Kansas. In 2012, we launched KCnext – The Technology Council of Greater Kansas City as a regional, membership-based organization.
What’s your version of the Kansas City sales pitch?
It depends who I’m talking to! In general, Kansas Citians have been guilty of using blanket statements to describe our region – using terms like barbecue, jazz, fountains and boulevards. We’ve got much more to sell, and most of the world knows us for BBQ already.
These days, most young people choose a city before they choose a job. Kansas City is a city of choice because of our exploding art, culture, food and music scene, not to mention a vibrant downtown urban-living environment with a streetcar on the way.
The affordability of living in Kansas City is one of our key advantages compared to the coasts. This luxury allows you to choose your lifestyle whether you want urban, suburban or rural. We have award-winning public schools and neighborhoods to raise a family.
Moral of the story: It’s important to understand your audience and customize your pitch.
What’s the next hurdle to overcome as a region?
We can do a better job of educating our elected officials about the importance of creating policies that will draw young, talented people and companies to our region.
Anything people reading this can do to support local tech?
Learn to code! I’m serious. Software development skills are in high demand right now, and this need won’t be slowing down. Just in Kansas City, there are 2,000+ open tech positions, and the average annual salary for a tech job is $89,000+.
What is your latest epiphany?
This city is on a rollercoaster of momentum and civic pride. I am sure all of us have noticed. Then I wondered who else has noticed? Well, that may be a tough question to answer because the answer may be immeasurable. On a recent returning flight to Kansas City, I was wearing a KC Royals hat and I wasn’t the only one. In fact, there were so many blue KC hat wearing passengers the flight attendants noticed. I guess going to the World Series will do that.