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Wyandotte County: The Big-D Democratic Powerhouse

By Diane Wahto
Opinion | December 24, 2010

Mayor & CEO
Joe Reardon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - A recent headline in the Kansas City Star announced Wyandotte County in the midst of a historic building boom. Wyandotte County, located in the northeast corner of the state, includes Kansas City, Kansas, as well as several other municipalities, and is governed by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas.

While Kevin Collins, the reporter who wrote the Star article, details several of the construction projects that are fueling the Wyandotte County economic boom, one thing he failed to mention was that Wyandotte County is the only county in Kansas that has been governed for years by Big D Democrats. It also is the only county in the state that in the November 2010 election returned all its Democratic representatives to the state legislature and Democrat Janet Waugh to the State Board of Education.

According to county documents, Wyandotte County expects to issue $303.7 million in commercial building permits this year. Among the commercial projects ongoing in Wyandotte County are the Sporting Kansas City stadium, which will be home to the soccer team formerly known as the Kansas City Wizards, the Hollywood Casino, and construction at the University of Kansas Medical Center and KU Hospital campus. The Sara Lee investment in a meat-slicing plant and the investment by Zeolyst International that will result in the additional thirty-three jobs for the area are among industrial projects underway.

Next year, Cerner Corporation will begin construction of an office campus to house its medical software company. This company is projected to hire 4,000 employees.
Mayor Joe Reardon of the Unified Government, quoted in the Star, said, "The construction activity going on right now in nearly all parts of our economy couldn't come at a more critical time in our county, and most of these projects also will lead to permanent jobs."

According to the Star article, Reardon and others give credit for the construction boom to "a strategic plan laid out over a decade ago when county officials acquired 400 acres by what is now the Kansas Speedway to accommodate future development."

Rory O'Connor, vice president of construction for Sporting KC, said in the Star article, "You can attribute it to the public financing that's been made available and to the Unified Government administration that had the fortitude to take the risks."

In fact, the growth in Wyandotte County has come about because of combining public and private initiatives and wise government consolidation. Jim Herrmann, Kansas Progressive Caucus chair and a Democratic activist, singled out former mayor Carol Marinovich, a Democrat, as being responsible for the initiative to consolidate Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, into the Unified Government. This move reduced the size and cost of government and laid the foundation for the construction of the NASCAR Kansas Speedway and the surrounding development of Village West.

Most of this development was paid for by government bonds. Both Marinovich and Reardon have demanded that construction companies pay the prevailing wage, providing not just work but also a good income for construction workers in the area.
Herrmann points out that "by staying true to Democratic principles, a government can still be 'pro-business' and "pro-worker' at the same time." It's not an "either/or" situation; it's an "and/and" proposition.

"We can have a healthy environment and healthy job growth. We can have an effective government and falling taxes. It's the Democrats that have this figured out."

In addition to all this, with school funding in jeopardy throughout Kansas, the Kansas City, Kansas, school district is one of the best in the KC metropolitan area.

Wyandotte County is the only Kansas county where such a boom is taking place. Also, it's the only county with a Democratic county commission. It's the only county in which most of its state representatives are Democrats, Democrats who approve state funding for projects such as road construction. Is this just a coincidence? Hardly likely.

The Republicans running the state government could do well to look to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, as the model for creating job growth and economic health throughout Kansas.


As a resident of Johnson county I'm very glad to see Wyandotte County doing better. KCK actually has a pretty good school district considering the area with their flagship high school, Schlagle, being one of the best in the area. A big boost for WC was The Legends shopping district which encompasses not only a massive shopping area but a brand new, first rate NASCAR track, a semi-pro basbeall team, and a new waterpark. I saw a few years ago where the area is proving to be one of the biggest sources of sales tax into the state. Even then Governor Sebelius toured the area. There has even been talk about building a "Wizard of Oz" based theme park there.

It's a great example of how government and business can work together for economic growth.

Thanks for adding to what I wrote Brad. I live in Wichita, so I had to draw on information from those who lived up there to pull this together. It's a real success story that I hope can be duplicated throughout the state.

I think the flourishing of Wyandotte is a good thing. It does bother me where it is taking place. Yes, the Legends, and the Kansas Speedway have been huge economic boosts to the area they are all on undeveloped land. I would really like to see KCK investing in urban renewal in places like Strawberry Hill, and others. Perhaps the new revenue could allow that.

Diane, Well now for the bad news. Unfortunately for Kansas City Kansas the Legends shopping area is located miles west from the downtown and where most of the people live so it is hard for the people needing jobs to get out there. They basically just bought up tons of cheap farmland to build it. And sorry to say most of the jobs are not high paying like jobs building aircraft like you have in Wichita. Selling peanuts at the stadium or waiting tables at the Dinosaur Restaurant wont lift a family out of poverty. The Legends was also built with TIF financing so little of the property tax money is benefitting the local school districts or municipalities. These developments have a nasty habit of closing once the TIF time runs out and some other area offers a better deal. The Bannister Mall area is a good example of that.

Still it is better than nothing and the area has needed some type of economic boost.

Brad--The person who gave me the information was referring to the construction jobs and some of the other higher end jobs that came as a result of the construction. I know there is always a downside to development, especially when it takes place in places that may provide habitats or when it's far away from the people who really need the work. I don't know how you balance that equation. I do know here in Wichita, we've had a lot of downtown development. I have no idea what impact that development has had on the city as a whole.

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