KC Talent Magnet
Kansas City's vibrant culture attracts young entrepreneurs
Kansas City is attracting talented people in increasing measure. In fact, it added 197,000 people to its population from 2000-2010, representing an 11 percent growth for the city.
Young professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses looking for the best place to put down roots are frequently finding KC fits the bill.
We can thank our entrepreneur-friendly culture, tree-lined streets and fountains, major sports franchises, world-class restaurants, top-notch shopping and some of the nation's finest museums and entertainment venues. Paired with a low cost of living punctuated by affordable housing, this translates into a powerful allure that convinces would-be residents to set their sights on Kansas City.
There is also a group of individuals working behind the scenes, doing their best to woo those thinking about Kansas City as a place to advance a career.
The Kansas City Area Development Council (KCADC), headed by Bob Marcusse, has created ThinkKC, a task force designed to put Kansas City on the forefront of a movement led by mid-sized cities seeking to attract young professionals and increase access to top-tier talent.
ThinkKC assists employers in recruiting professionals by selling the benefits of Kansas City. Jessica Nelson takes the lead in the initiative by coordinating with Human Resource departments as they work with identified candidates.
Nelson's job is to paint a picture of the city's most important features customized to the candidate's ambitions and aspirations. She encourages candidates to take a closer look at one of the most vibrant cities in America.
In the following pages, we share a few of those individual stories to illustrate the impact of ThinkKC's work.
Livy Long, Lettering Artist, Hallmark Cards, Inc.
Livy Long has landed her dream job.
As a lettering artist at Kansas City-based Hallmark, Long spends her days creating hand-drawn typography and illustrations for the famed greeting card company.
“I keep pinching myself,” Long laughs. “I ask myself all the time, ‘Since I collect a paycheck, am I really a professional?’ It seems unreal at times.”
It’s real, indeed. Not only has Long, 22, already made her mark on Hallmark as an integral part of the creative division, but in the coming months, her line of self-designed cards will debut in stores as part of Hallmark’s Studio Ink division.
Growing up in rural New Oxford, Pa., Long was innately creative from a young age, but it wasn’t until she attended the famed Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Fla., that Long began to find her niche as an illustrator.
As her junior year of college approached, Long had her eye on one of the coveted Hallmark internships. Her focus paid off, and Long packed her bags for Kansas City to complete a three-month internship during the summer of 2013.
After wowing the higher-ups at Hallmark with her understanding of visual communication and her unique voice as an artist — a beautiful hybrid of illustration and design, Long was offered a full-time position at Hallmark in the fall of her senior year as she juggled competing offers from top creative contenders including American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio.
“For me, returning to Kansas City and to Hallmark was an easy decision,” Long says. “The creative atmosphere and the talent that I am around at Hallmark is invaluable and continues to stretch me as an artist. Transitioning from a small, two-traffic-light town in Pennsylvania to a Midwestern city like Kansas City was the best choice for me.”
And while Long says the population and sprawl of Kansas City still intimidates her and sometimes she longs for the pristine Floridian beaches of her college years, Long is has spent the last five months setting down roots in Kansas City and enjoying all the city has to offer.
“Kansas City is really a hub of urban culture,” Long says. “This city is full of Midwestern charm and hospitality and has a lot to offer. There’s creative inspiration around every corner."
Jason Schildt, Software Engineering Manager, Garmin
One might argue that Jason Schildt was born to work at Garmin. An avid outdoorsman, trail runner and cyclist, Schildt not only uses Garmin products in his day-to-day, but he also creates them as a software engineering manager at the Olathe-based company.
But Schildt’s road from his childhood growing up near beautiful Butte, Mont., to successful software engineer was anything but typical. After high school, Schildt joined the United States Navy, where he spent three years and served two tours in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. Schildt then left the Navy and shifted focus completely, enrolling in culinary school, graduating and working a series of restaurants in Salt Lake City.
Soon, though, Schildt had the epiphany that the restaurant business wasn’t feasible for the lifestyle he desired, so he enrolled himself in a computer science program, all the while continuing to work as an award-winning pastry chef and completing an internship program, which eventually led him to his first computer engineering job at a Salt Lake City-based firm at age 32.
To say that Jason Schildt is versatile is an understatement.
“I like to say I seamlessly transitioned from pastry chef to computer engineer,” Schildt laughs.
Schildt, 44, came to Garmin three years ago after relocating from Seattle, Wash., where he worked as a software engineer at super computer giant, Cray. Today, he works in Garmin’s consumer automotive division.
“I was looking to move on, but I didn’t know where I wanted to go,” Schildt recalls.
So Schildt began looking, not for a job, but for a lifestyle that fit his personality and a company that fit his lifestyle.
After looking at some of the big tech players, namely Google and Amazon, he happened upon a job opening at Garmin.
“I was under the assumption that I was interviewing for a job in Garmin’s Salem, Wash., office, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that my interview would take place in Kansas,” laughs Schildt. “I had never lived anywhere east of the Rockies, so I was hesitant to say the least.”
But Kansas City caught Schildt’s attention — hook, line and sinker.
Upon receiving an offer from Garmin, Kansas City still had to convince one more important player — Schildt’s wife, Carla.
After spending one more long weekend in Kansas City, the deal was sealed.
“Kansas City surprised us both,” Schildt says. “We fell in love with this town. It’s a city full of well-designed communities and lots of green space. It’s everything we need at this stage in our lives.”
Today, Shildt relishes his job at Garmin — and his seven-mile daily commute via bicycle on the Indian Creek Trail.
“Living in Kansas City and working at Garmin allows me the balance that I strive for in my life,” Schildt says. “I can take pride in my work, knowing I am part of something of great quality, but because Garmin is such a family-friendly company, I enjoy my family time as well.”
And as the Schildts continue to lay down roots in our fair city, they thrive on all Kansas City has to offer in terms of outdoor living — frequently partaking in self-proclaimed family park crawls (riding their bikes from park to park on a Saturday afternoon), and frequenting the Overland Park Arboretum.
“It’s easy to be proud of what I do for a living,” he says. “And I couldn’t think of a better city in which to work, play and raise a family.”
Francis Fave, Industrial Designer, Garmin
For Francis Fave, relocating to Kansas City from Austin, Texas, was an easy transition.
Well, for the most part.
Kansas City didn’t necessarily give Fave a “warm” welcome. The very weekend he arrived to begin his new job in January, snow wreaked havoc on the metro.
“I don’t do snow well,” he says. “I was literally scraping the ice off my window with a credit card.”
Fast-forward almost a year, and Fave is well-settled in Kansas City (and well-equipped with a snow scraper).
Fave, 27, who previously worked at In2 Innovation’s Austin office as an industrial design consultant, was looking for the next natural step in his career when a friend employed by Kansas City-based Garmin passed along his portfolio to Garmin’s design director.
By the time a Garmin recruiter contacted Fave, a formal application was all that stood between Fave and his move to the City of Fountains.
“The design team at Garmin is a fantastic group of really talented individuals that is growing and evolving every day,” says Fave.
And the ability to follow a project from inception all the way to fruition is a major highlight of his job at Garmin. From the material options to the color choices and even down to the placement of buttons, Fave has his hand in creating some of Garmin’s most cutting-edge devices.
“Kansas City is very underrated,” Fave reflects. “There are so many cool, pocketed areas of the city that are extremely diverse in atmosphere. From the River Market and Westport to the Plaza and Brookside, you can discover so many different facets to this city. But the real beauty of the experience is trying to find them.”
Additionally, what attracted Fave to Kansas City was its rich visual arts culture.
“Creativity and inspiration is easy to come by in Kansas City,” Fave says. “You’ve got First Fridays, museums and even public sculptures and murals that are scattered throughout the city. The architecture in Kansas City is amazing. It’s the perfect fit for an industrial designer.”
Fave and his fiancé (who also relocated from Austin) live near the Country Club Plaza, where they enjoy biking the trolley trail, frequenting area coffee shops and stocking up on fresh produce at the River Market Farmer’s Market.
“This job and this city have been nothing but a pleasant surprise,” says Fave.
Nick Bowden, Co-Founder, MindMixer
When Nick Bowden and his colleague Nathan Preheim launched MindMixer in 2011, they did so with the intent to create a “virtual town hall” of sorts, to give local governments and community organizations a way to engage with citizens and constituents through the Internet.
MindMixer took root when the two men were working for an Omaha-based urban planning firm and were assigned a project in a rural town to source community insight for long-term community planning efforts. After organizing a series of town hall meetings and expecting a solid turnout from the small town’s residents, Bowden and Preheim were disappointed to find that the turnout was alarmingly low.
“On the seven-hour drive home, we decided that existing public engagement tools were broken,” Bowden says. “So we set out to fix them.”
MindMixer quickly garnered attention, and exploded to be used by upwards of 700 civic and educational organizations within just a few short years.
However, in April 2014, Bowden made a decision for MindMixer that would have a lasting effect. After examining various factors including cost of relocation, growth potential and, most importantly, the local talent pool that Kansans City had to offer the growing company, Bowden moved MindMixer’s headquarters to Kansas City’s Crossroads district.
By relocating to Kansas City, MindMixer was able to tap into local talents in information technology, software and programming, and exponentially expand its workforce in just a few short months.
“The hires we have made in Kansas City are super talented, really solid,” Bowden reflects. “Kansas City is fortunate to have a large number of creative agencies and product companies, so the creative talent in the area is fantastic.”
Fifteen employees from Nebraska relocated to Kansas City last spring and joined employees in MindMixer’s 7,500-square-foot office space in the Crossroads area of Kansas City, which was established as a satellite office in 2011. To date, MindMixer has hired upwards of 65 people since relocating to Kansas City.
During the search for a relocation destination, MindMixer also looked at moving to Silicon Valley, but ultimately settled on staying in the Midwest, a move that Bowden says was ultimately more cost-effective in terms of real estate prices, wages and rent.
“The culture in Kansas City was just what we were looking for,” Bowden says. “This is a city of hard-working people and creative problem solvers, the kinds of people that everyone wants on their team.”
While Bowden admits that MindMixer’s move to the Kansas City metro was primarily tied to the city’s talent pool, MindMixer’s plan to create jobs throughout the next year in Kansas City made the company eligible for as much as $1.65 million in incentives through the Missouri Works program, an added bonus in Bowden’s eyes.
“Ultimately, we realized that Kansas City was going to be our best option for hiring top talent quickly, so we decided to consolidate the offices here,” Bowden says. “It was bittersweet, but it just made sense.”
Erik Wullschleger, Director, LiveKC
Innovator. Motivator. Trailblazer. As founder and general manager of the Sprint Accelerator and a director of LiveKC, an organization committed to making Kansas City a more attractive place to live, work and play, Wullschleger is as much of an ambassador for our fair city as you can find.
Wullschleger, a 31-year-old Nebraska native, grew up on a Christmas tree farm and worked his way up the Sprint ladder from a retail position very quickly after Sprint identified him as a rising star with seemingly unlimited potential in the technology development realm.
With the ultimate goal of enhancing the company’s innovation, Wullschleger launched the Sprint Accelerator program — a live think tank and technology start-up incubator — in Kansas City’s Crossroads District.
With the focus of developing new technologies to benefit the healthcare industry, the Sprint Accelerator offers seed money, mentorship and access to immense Sprint resources to 10 up-and-coming tech development companies at a time.
By pairing experienced Sprint executives with very flexible, nimble start-up entrepreneurs, Sprint has seemingly hit the innovation jackpot as it continues to change the face of mobile health, while simultaneously enriching the careers of all parties involved.
But beyond Sprint, Wullschleger spends most of his waking hours creating ways to connect the community of young professionals within Kansas City while concurrently enhancing Kansas City’s “brand” to outside talent. Alongside his co-directors Ashley Voss and Misha Chopp, Wullschleger heads up LiveKC — an organization dedicated to the millennial workforce (meaning young professionals born after 1980).
“Twenty-five percent of the U.S. population is made up of millennials, but as of the year 2025, half of the work force will be made up of us,” he says. “There is a challenge for companies in Kansas City to create a culture that can attract and retain these individuals and their talents.”
LiveKC launched in September 2013 with backing from local power players such as Cerner, Sprint, Hallmark Cards Inc., Black & Veatch and Sporting Kansas City, among others, and began using employees within the millennial age range to serve as ambassadors for the city through a series of events of both a professional and a purely social nature.
In the organization’s first year, LiveKC hosted successful events such as the Oregon Trail Pub Crawl, the Live Outside the Lines Art Fair Party in conjunction with the Plaza Art Fair, the Smash KC Ping Pong Tournament, World Cup watch parties at the Kansas City Power & Light District as well as the wildly successful Fiery Stick Open festival, which turned the Liberty Memorial into a golf course complete with live music, food trucks, Boulevard beer and a speaker series by young professionals who are at the top of innovation in their respective fields.
As an organization, LiveKC strives to build relationships between millennials so that collaborations can take shape and individual talents can be honed toward a greater good.
“I don’t care what generation you are from,” Wullschleger says. “Everyone craves community, and that is what LiveKC has created. I am passionate about community in general, and I want people to be proud of where they live and work.”
To that end, Wullschleger says that retaining local talent and attracting it from around the country is key. Lucky for Kansas City, the city sells itself.
“Whatever you are looking for in a city, chances are, we have it here,” Wullschleger says. “If you want a metropolitan downtown area, a hip art district or green space and 10 acres of land, you can find it all with a thirty-mile radius.”
The real mission, says Wullschleger, is attracting Kansas City the publicity it deserves on a national scale — a challenge that LiveKC and Wullschleger are meeting head-on as the organization’s events continue to garner national press.
“I have fallen in love with this city, and I know that no matter what the future holds, I will somehow be involved in continuing to grow Kansas City,” Wullschleger says. “Really amazing people are doing really amazing things here.”
As for LiveKC, Wullschleger says that the vision is as simple or complex as one wants to make it. But no matter what the future holds for the millennial workforce, the organization plans to evolve as the voice of a generation.
“We want to build the largest army of young people in Kansas City and shape the city into a place where our voice is heard — inside the workplace and out,” he says.
Matthew Marcus, Co-founder, Kansas City Startup Village
Statistics show that more startup businesses fail than succeed. But entrepreneurs, being a spirited sort, are well aware of that fact.
And they go forward anyway.
“It is a dream; it is a passion,” says Matthew Marcus, one of the founders of Startup Village, an area entrepreneur-led business community that helps startups succeed. “For some of us, like myself, we can’t do the typical 9-to-5 anymore. What’s interesting is that one is not right and one is not wrong. For me, a fast-paced, unpredictable environment is where I thrive and what I enjoy.”
Startup Village was founded in 2012 to serve as a resource for, an example to and a hub of the greater Kansas City startup community. Since its inception, some 30 startups have joined the village, operating their businesses from small, charming houses within about a one-mile radius of 45th Street and State Line Road. Its nucleus, where Marcus works from 4454 State Line Road, was the first public installation of Google Fiber, he says.
Having a community of other like-minded individuals in the same boat offering counsel and encouragement goes a long way toward making true that old saw “survival of the fittest” when it comes to entrepreneurship, Marcus says.
“We loosely refer to the village as a ‘living incubator,’” he explains. “An incubator exists to support its members and increase their chance of success through mentorship, through connections, and by providing resources. However, we don’t take equity like a traditional incubator would. We also don’t give money to fund startups. The reason we say ‘living incubator’ is because there are a number of entrepreneurs who live and work here and the incubation comes from us supporting one another.”
Startups, Marcus says, are essential to a community, and Kansas City, for the most part, gets that.
“Startups and entrepreneurship are the biggest drivers of job creation and job growth in America,” he says. “They’re responsible for somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of job creation. In order for this economy to get back on track and find its legs again, America needs to support entrepreneurship. It’s definitely important in that respect, but it’s also important because I think there’s a paradigm shift.
“The traditional mindset is you graduate college, you get a corporate job, you work 50 years and you retire. That’s life. But people are seeing differently. They’re making multiple career decisions in their lives. What they’re starting to do is to really look inside their lives and ask, ‘What am I passionate about?’ They’re finding business ideas where it doesn’t feel like work, where it’s a dream, it’s something that inspires them and fulfills them and they can make a business out of it and they can feel happy about doing it.”
On the following pages, meet some members of Startup Village who are happy about making entrepreneurship their career choice.
Leap.it is a search engine that delivers web, social, news, images and local results within a single search. Tyler VanWinkle, vice president of product and marketing, says the 3 ½-year-old business is “not interested in incremental innovation. We’re interested in reinvention.”
EyeVerify, founded in 2012, is the exclusive provider of EyePrint Verification, which transforms a picture of your eye into a key that protects your digital life, says Jeremy Paben, vice president of engineering. The technology delivers a password-free mobile experience and secure authentication at a glance by using existing cameras on smartphones to image and pattern-match the blood vessels in the whites of the eye.
Kyle Ginavan, owner and CEO, says NexusHQ integrates all aspects of insurance technology to attract clients through powerful yet easy-to-use software. The company joined Startup Village in 2013. “There’s nobody in our business that cares more about technology, cares more about our clients and works harder to make it happen,” Ginavan says.
Owner Brandon Schatz started SportsPhotos.com in 2012. His company focuses on creating tools and opportunities for photographers to sell photos and for the public to buy photos. Schatz believes that photographers working together is more powerful and fun than working alone.
RFP365 offers software that streamlines and manages request-for-proposal processes, explains Stuart Ludlow, co-founder and lead engineer in charge of product development. Started in 2012, the software is an end-to-end platform that seamlessly facilitates competitive bidding.