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  • Our briefers provide an overview of Kansas City, Missouri and the region and brief press on economic development and some major infrastructure projects underway, to include a new $1.5B airport slated to open in March 2023, a $350M extension of its downtown streetcar system, and the KC Current’s $70M soccer stadium – the first built for a women’s team (and led by a female construction team). 


MODERATOR:  Good day, and welcome to this New York Foreign Press Center briefing.  My name is Daphne Stavropoulos and I am today’s moderator.  Continuing on with our City Spotlight series, it’s a pleasure to introduce Tim Cowden, President and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, and Justin Meyer, Deputy Director of Aviation at the Kansas City Aviation Department.  They will be speaking about the economy of the Kansas City metropolitan area in the heart of America’s Midwest, and they will also be discussing major infrastructure projects underway, to include a $1.5 billion airport slated to open in March 2023.   

Kansas City International is also being considered for supplemental federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to incentivize more international flights. 

This briefing is on the record, and the views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State are their own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or Government.   

If you’ve not had the opportunity to do so, please ensure your full name and media outlet appear on the screen.  And following our speakers’ remarks, I will open the floor for questions.  If you have a question, go to the participant field and raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you.  When called on, please enable both your audio and your video, and identify yourself by full name and outlet. 

And with that, let me turn the floor over to Mr. Cowden.  Thank you again for joining us today. 

MR COWDEN:  Hi, how are you?  Glad to have everyone join us today in Kansas City virtually.  We’re really excited to be able to talk to you about all that we have going on in this region.  So I thought I would start here momentarily.  But first I would like to introduce my colleague, Jessica Palm.   

Jessica, would you like to say anything? 

MS PALM:  No, I’m good.  (Laughter.)  Thank you for coming. 

MR COWDEN:  Good to go? 

MS PALM:  Yeah, we’re good to go. 

MR COWDEN:  All right.  Now, there’s so much going on in our region that revolves around this new investment in our airport, but I thought what I would start off with is just a level set for everyone about the Kansas City region from an economic perspective.  So at any point you have questions, it’s probably best that I get through this first part of the presentation, then we can take a break and segue over to my friend Justin, and then he’ll get into everything about the new airport terminal that’s nearing completion within a year.  And that is such an important aspect of Kansas City’s future, in my opinion, and many in Kansas City.   

So with that, I think I’d go ahead and get started.   

So to give everyone some geographic perspective, Kansas City is the most geocentral major market in the center of North America.  So here we are, straddling the Kansas-Missouri line right in the heart of the United States of America.  And when I talk about Kansas City today, this is the region that I’m referring to.  It’s 18 counties in both Kansas and Missouri.  I’m seated this morning, as is Justin, in Kansas City, Missouri, which is in Jackson County.  But if you go to the next slide for me, you’ll see that our customers don’t know where those lines are.  You likely don’t know where the lines are that comprise the political boundaries of the Kansas City region. 

So my organization, the Kansas City Area Development Council, has been around now for about 45 years, and our job is to sell, market, and brand this region as one to the world – primarily to companies that are from outside of this footprint, and also talent.  And I’ll get into some of that as we go. 

Population for this region is about 2.2 million; labor force, 1.1 million; and unemployment rate most recently is about 2.4 percent.  So what you’re going to find is a market that is very reflective of the United States economy in the macro sense. 

When you look at the makeup of our economy, as I just referred to, it’s fairly much a mirror image of the U.S. economy.  So the strength of that certainly in times like now where you have a lot of economic volatiliy, certainly with inflation and supply chain issues, there is really a rush to certainty and predictability.  Just like there is a global rush into the U.S. in terms of financial instruments and the like, you find that certainly as well as it relates to Kansas City.  A number of companies are looking at the heartland, and certainly our region being the capital of the heartland of the United States, we’ve seen a lot of interest in our market moving forward. 

These are the companies that have a headquarters presence in the Kansas City region.  And again, regardless of whether it’s Missouri or Kansas, this is across the region.  And you’ll see some iconic brands:  Hallmark, for example; Garmon, which certainly has a global reach; Merck Animal Health, which is headquartered here; signficant presence in the cyber sector, which is emerging, and I’ll talk more about that as we go; Black & Veach, which is a global engineering firm headquartered in our region; and Russell Stover candy, which is owned by Lindt from Switzerland.  I think we have a journalist from Switzerland joining us, so we have a major presence here in Kansas City of Lindt.   

Then you have some legacy industries here.  Why is Kansas City – why do we even exist?  And you can go back to the founding of our city some 160, 70 years ago, and it’s really built upon logistics.  And those logistic strengths are still very prevalent here.  We make things here.  We ship things.  And certainly as it relates to ecommerce and the impact of that, we’ve seen a lot of tremendous growth in that sector, which we’ll talk more about here momentarily.  Certainly Justin will get into how we’re moving people in and out of Kansas City, air cargo in addition to that.   

The animal health corridor.  Two-thirds of the global activity, economic activity from this sector, a 60 billion-plus global sector, takes place in Kansas City or touches a company that’s either headquartered in Kansas City or has a major presence here.  So that’s a significant legacy industry that continues to be a really important part of Kansas City’s economic makeup and certainly important as we look forward into the future.   

And then as I mentioned, Black & Veatch being one of the companies that really is an anchor for our global design industry.  You think about the last eight Olympiads; every one of those Olympic stadiums has been designed by a sports architecture firm headquartered or with a major presence in the Kansas City region, and that surprises a lot of folks.  And we’ve created an initiative to help us take that messaging to a much more global scale and platform moving forward. 

So I’d like to talk about some of the real activity that we’re seeing now from an economic standpoint.  Food and beverage – we’re in the heart of the breadbasket of the United States and really the world right here in the Kansas City region, so a significant amount of food and beverage and ecommerce activity.  And you can see the stats there – number three trucking center in the country.  A lot of new construction in terms of industrial space here, 15 million square feet has come online, 661 food and beverage companies, and you can see that.  So we grow crops here, we produce them, and we ship them.  And that is, again, a legacy industry, but certainly as we look forward into the future that’s a big part of Kansas City and our economic standing. 

Electric vehicles – we’re really excited about the future and what this sector allows for in Kansas City.  We’re seeing a significant amount of interest right now in the EV space, from battery storage, actually the vehicles themselves, the assembly and design of these vehicles.  We’re already a top automotive logistics hub, and you think about Ford Motor Company with their largest plant in the world located here in Kansas City and how they’re electrifying the Transit van.  And they make the F-150 here, the most popular vehicle in the world.  A lot of that ties back to the productivity of our workforce.  GM has a major presence here.  But we’re seeing significant interest, again battery storage, as we electrify vehicles and those platforms moving forward.  And we’re really excited about that, and I’m highly confident about where this sector is going to take Kansas City and vice versa.   

I referred to this earlier, but cyber – we all know the impact of cyber.  We see certainly the impact that is happening in Ukraine and the conflict in Eastern Europe right now.  A significant amount of cyber security companies that are being developed here – you can see that it just doubled the U.S. average of concentration of cyber security employees.  You look at 23 NSA Centers of Academic Excellence within our region.  So there’s a talent pipeline that’s being created there, the 25 military and government facilities with that specialty.  So again, in the middle – our location in the middle of the United States certainly lends to, both from a visual and a real standpoint, security, and companies are finding that in our location.   

And then just an overlay of what we’re seeing in the Kansas City region.  We just announced a huge hyperscale data center, Meta is investing over a billion dollars here, and there’s consistent thought that they will continue to grow that out over the course of the next decade and other of the big tech players will follow suit with what Meta is doing here.  Google has already purchased land.  We’re optimistic that they will do something along the same lines as Meta, and others will follow.  As I referred to earlier, high-growth industrial market.   

And we’re finalists – we’ll know next week at this time whether or not Kansas City will be a host city for the 2026 World Cup.  So we’re really excited about that.  My friend, Justin, is a huge football fan, and we’re highly confident of our standing and know that FIFA and the world will make the right decision there.   

I already referred to the terminal.  I’ll pass it over to Justin here momentarily, but we’ll also be hosting the NFL draft next April, the most popular sport certainly in the United States, will have a shining beacon focused upon Kansas City right out my window that I’m looking right now.   

So there are inflection points for any region or any city at times of their development, and we know that Kansas City is on an upward trajectory, and I am personally confident a number of things that are going to occur within the short term, meaning the next – really the next three to six months, will give us the fuel we need to take it to that next level of orbit.  And one of those areas certainly is the great work that Justin and the team are doing at the Aviation Department to establish an airport terminal that reflects the quality of this Kansas City region. 

So with that, I might turn it to Justin, and then we can take some questions afterwards, if that’s okay, Daphne.   

MODERATOR:  That’s fantastic.  Thank you so much.    

MR MEYER:  Thank you, Tim, and thank you for highlighting all the great work that the Kansas City Area Development Council does.  And Tim’s leadership and the incredible work of the team is certainly moving Kansas City in a forward direction, and I’m excited about what the future of this region is.   

It’s my pleasure to give you an update on the Aviation Department’s biggest project, which is a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.  We’re a mid-sized U.S. airport and we serve non-pandemic times almost 12 million passengers per year, and we are the largest airport in a significant region.  So where Tim would show some population numbers, over 2 million, when we think about the area that we serve, the airport being the largest commercial service airport within 300 miles, it does pull larger than that.   

So I think someone else is controlling slides, so we can flip to the next slide.  Thank you.   

This is just an overhead view of what our project site is, and you can see the blue new terminal, which went where a former horseshoe-shaped terminal was.  And I won’t spend a lot of time on the history of Kansas City and aviation, but it’s an interesting legacy, including Trans World Airlines and their global headquarters was here in Kansas City, and they certainly had a lot to do with the initial design of the three horseshoe-shaped terminals that we are ready to move out of.  We’ve seen a lot of change in the U.S. aviation industry and the global aviation industry as a whole as airplanes have gotten larger and range has increased, and there’s been a lot of things that have changed that have made our existing terminal complex design not as customer-focused and customer-friendly as what Kansas City deserves.   

So with a groundbreaking in 2019, we are now less than a year away for a new terminal opening in March of 2023.  The new terminal is a 39-gate facility that will completely replace the older facilities that we’re operating in now. 

If we want to flip one more, is the rendering of what the facility will look like and gives you an idea of some of the customer conveniences:  the proximity of that parking garage on the left-hand side; an upper and lower level roadway structure for easy arrivals and drop-offs and taking commercial vehicles off of the primary roadway into a commercial curb area; lots of natural light, lots of glass, lots of windows to bring the beauty of the region into the facility.   

And one of my favorite things with the new facility as well, just an indicator of our commitment to customer service and the guest experience, is the glass boarding bridges, which we know are very common in the international market but very uncommon in the United States.  In fact, it took a recent change to some legislation that would allow U.S. airports to procure and install the glass passenger boarding bridges that connect the aircraft to the building.  And so when we open, we will actually become the largest all-glass operator in the United States, so we’re excited about that.  Again, just one indication of some really significant customer experiences that we’ll be delivering to our guests that are arriving and departing through Kansas City International Airport. 

MR COWDEN:  Justin, I would add that the importance of this asset to Kansas City’s future, when you think about the great cities in the United States and the world, those that are growing rapidly or certainly above the national average, all of them have excellent access, air access, to the world.  And this facility is going to help promote that type of connectivity as we move forward.  You might talk about some of that, if you don’t mind, Justin, in terms of what the airlines are saying and how they view Kansas City moving forward. 

MR MEYER:  Sure.  And certainly, Tim, the facility that we are coming out of is one that hasn’t necessarily helped us, and our airlines have been vocally – vocal with their struggles in terms of not enough seats in the gate areas and not enough restrooms, just a lot of those basic level of conveniences that have been misfires for us.  But we’re going to go so far over and above that the hope is that we’ll be able to see our airlines respond to the new space and the new opportunities with new flights, and some of that’s already happening.   

We are thrilled to welcome our newest airline.  JetBlue took advantage of the Kansas City opportunity.  They started service to both New York and Boston just earlier this year.  And we’re seeing some of our airline partners that are already acquiring additional space, more gates, more office space in the new terminal than what they’ve had, which is clearly an indication of intent to grow.  Our second-largest carrier, Delta Airlines, has procured a 11,000-square-foot lounge, a club lounge, in the new terminal, which is something that we haven’t had.  And so there’s just a lot of things like that that are really positive indicators for what our airlines are intending to do.   

So our largest carrier, Southwest, is not yet selling their March of 2023 schedule, but I am excited for the opportunity to continue to stay in their ear and have a face-to-face meeting with them even just next week and several other of our airline partners to continue to work towards growing the air service portfolio here in Kansas City and making not only Kansas City more accessible for the people that live here, the world more accessible for the people that live here, but make Kansas City more accessible for the world and the people that want to visit here.  So that’s exciting times for us at the airport. 

MR COWDEN:  Justin, and I might add – ask you to add one thing, because I’ve heard you say this before, that it’s been a unique experience for you and the team at aviation because you’ve been in a design/build process of this facility through COVID.  So some of the technology and the comforts for the customer that are being created – so when this new facility comes online within the year – will be the most efficient, really in my opinion the best, airport experience in the world.  Can you talk about that? 

MR MEYER:  Yeah, for sure.  And there’s a lot of things that the design/build process has allowed us to do and to kind of hold off on some decisions.  When you think about technology, when we first started the idea of let’s build this new terminal, there was a lot of hesitation to things like biometric screening.  But now we all unlock our cell phones with our faces, so it’s become a lot more comfortable for users.  So things like biometric technology and some of the technology that we’ll have in the security checkpoint – and not only will the technology pieces be state of the art, but we’ll also be just delivering through design a really easy experience. 

I just looked at the distance for – from an international arriving airplane seat through the customs and immigration experience to airport exit to jumping onto transit to get into the city center.  That’s like less than 200 steps at the new terminal in Kansas City International Airport.  And you think about what the typical arrival experience is into the United States, which is through Chicago O’Hare or through Atlanta, where there’s trams and there’s long walks and lots of things like that.  We’re going to deliver the most incredible welcome to the United States of America experience right here in the heart of America, and we’re excited about that. 

MR COWDEN:  And I would add that from a tech standpoint and talking about the tech sector, technology companies, the existing terminal has really been – has hamstrung our ability to recruit the kinds of companies and talent to our region.  This is going to completely reset so many opinions that are held currently about Kansas City, because we all know the importance of the airport terminal and the airport complex being that first and lasting impression.  So when you consider Meta’s investment, they are now going to be bringing executives in and out of Kansas City through the new terminal.  We believe that’s going to lead to other opportunities with Meta potentially or other technology companies.   

Once you really dig in and get into the details about what makes Kansas City’s economy tick, the tech sector is a huge component of that.  In fact, Kansas City per capita – I want to stress per capita – is seeing the third most tech job growth in the country.  The other two markets in the top three?  San Francisco and Austin.  So it’s those sorts of nuggets that when we bring people in they experience.  But now, as I said before, this airport terminal, the experience there, is going to match the amazing aspects of the rest of our region.  Once we get people here, they see that.  And I would invite any of our folks on the call here.  Anytime you’d want to come into Kansas City, we can make that happen and certainly work through Daphne to do that. 

MODERATOR:  Well, thank you so much.  Thanks for those opening remarks.  We really appreciate all the information.  I’d like to give our journalists who are joining us today an opportunity to ask a question, and I will remind everyone to please enable both your audio and your video to ask your question, and introduce yourself by name and outlet when you do. 

The first question goes to Sandra. 

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you for having us.  I’m French.  I’m reporting for La Lettre de l’Audiovisuel is the name.  It’s an old newspaper.  And I have two question for you, because I heard that you have like something that more than three French company, Bouygues and some others.  My question, my first question, is:  Why do you think people, they’re going to invest in technology?  What make them come, like Meta – they invest in your city, right? 

And my second question is:  Do you have tax measures?  Do you have incitation? 

And my third question:  If you spoke with French people, why is there, like, three big company in your city?  Thank you. 

MR COWDEN:  Well, thank you very much.  It’s – I appreciate your question.  First off, why would Meta or other technology companies consider or select Kansas City?  It really comes first and foremost with the people, the labor force.  The productivity of the labor force is a big asset to Kansas City’s ability to attract those companies and that talent here.  So I would say that.  Certainly cost – the cost operating basis is very competitive and certainly significantly lower than those higher-cost markets on the coast.  The tax treatment, certainly this is a very conducive area from a – the way that government treats companies, corporations with regard to taxation, so that’s certainly an area that is a positive for us.   

And you look at companies that are in the Kansas City region that have a French background – we go back to the animal health industry.  So Ceva Animal Health, I believe they’re headquartered in the Bordeaux region, they have a significant presence in Kansas City.  Their U.S./North American headquarters is in the Kansas City region.  A number of automotive-related companies that serve Ford and General Motors have presence here.  Virbac is one; Faurecia is another.  And then while it’s not French directly, but just across the border in Belgium, we make a lot of beer here and we are known for quality beer.  So Duvel Moortgat, based in Belgium, has a presence here with the headquarters of Boulevard Brewing, which is one of the higher-end and more successful craft brewers in the United States.  I think now they serve upwards of 30 states in the U.S., and with the Duval relationship they’re able to take their product globally.  

So I appreciate your questions.  And by the way, my wife is French so it’s nice to meet you. 

QUESTION:  I can definitely speak with her.  Thank you.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.   

MODERATOR:  So if you have a question, feel free to send me an email in the chat – oh, I – or raise your hand.  And I see Arnaud.  The next question goes to Arnaud and then we’ll go to Torsten.  Arnaud, you’re muted.  If you could just unmute yourself, please. 

QUESTION:  Hello.  Arnaud Leparmentier, French daily Le Monde.  Do you hear me? Yeah, it’s okay?  Yeah, okay.  I have a question about your airport.  There is a shortage of staff, of crew.  For the time being it’s an awful mess to travel in the United States.  How is it so far in Kansas City?  Are you spared by this or do the companies cut lines and do not put the priority on you?  So how is this cost-cutting difficulties make or make not a problem for your new airport? 

MR MEYER:  Thank you for the question.  One of the things that I think is important, we are in right now in peak season for us, summer season when the students are out of school, everyone is traveling, business is traveling, leisure is traveling, everyone’s at the airport, it seems.  We’ve been able to not have to go through any sort of the staffing issues that we’ve seen in some other international airports, such as Amsterdam or Dublin, where lines are extending out the buildings and down the sidewalks.  Our staffing levels have held on.  We’re proud to be able to continue to pretty high levels of customer service.  There, of course, are some situations that we’re dealing with.  It’s – we’re – it’s hard for us to hire bus drivers and frontline restaurant workers and things like that.  But for the most part, the operation of the airport is continuing.   

In regards to the new terminal and how that will translate into the new facility, it – the experience should actually be better because the new design will be much more efficient in how passengers are able to use the facilities.  So thinking specifically of the security checkpoint, right now, like Amsterdam used to be, very individual security checkpoints where each checkpoint leads to its own gate cluster.  In the new facility we will be taking all of the security checkpoints together, and that of course is really going to enhance the efficiency of the way that those checkpoints operate in that any passenger can use any checkpoint, unlike what we have now where there might be three airplanes on the ground for one part of the terminal and everyone’s having to go through one or two security checkpoints there.   

So we – we’re doing okay right now through this peak summer period, and we do expect that the new terminal facility will enhance the passenger experience through multiple levels of efficiency. 

QUESTION:  Okay, if I might make a follow-up question — 

MR MEYER:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  It’s not on the airport, but of the global area.  Do you have a shortage of labor like in the rest of United States, or has there been immigration in the Kansas City area so that you have workforce in sufficient amount, or is it a very tight labor market? 

MR COWDEN:  Well, Kansas City is reflective of the U.S. economy, as I mentioned before, so employers here, like everywhere across the United States, are finding it challenging at times in some sectors to get the employees that they need.  However, when you look at the growth of the Kansas City region, we’re well over 10 percent population growth.  There’s significant interest certainly from within the region for net immigration, and if you look at what’s occurred since the beginning of the pandemic, Kansas City was a top 10 market for net migration, net immigration from other areas of the country.  Certainly, this is a very conducive place from which to work remotely.  And some of the things that I referred to earlier that I believe are on the near-term horizon for Kansas City will create even more opportunity, which creates interest in folks from across certainly our region, our broader region in the United States, to come here to pursue that opportunity.   

But yes, Kansas City is reflective of what’s occurring in the United States.  It’s certainly a little tougher in some sectors, but there’s some really creative approaches being done here to provide a pipeline, a workforce pipeline all the way from the K-12 schools up through college and the trade schools and the like.  So we’re addressing that and with the headquarters – the global headquarters of the Kauffman Foundation here in Kansas City, their whole raison d’être is to establish these career pipelines and tracks for workforce. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Let’s go to Torsten. 

QUESTION:  Yeah, hi.  This is Torsten with German Radio.  Thanks for doing this and this is just to follow up to Tim – just what you said.  Can you give us a ratio about the jobs you’re creating right now between high-paying jobs and minimum wage jobs, about high-skilled labor and non-educational, really high labor, and about also unionized jobs and non-unionized jobs?  That would be interesting.   

MR COWDEN:  Well, we’ll follow up with you with some specific ratio numbers.  We are creating a significant amount of technology jobs which are on the upper end of the scale.  And you think about all jobs now, they’re all really technology jobs, and those jobs that you thought in the past were more of the lower-skilled, lower-wage jobs, those are all having to implement new technology – for example, in e-commerce and as you move products from the place of production to the customer, that’s all occurring here.   

So we’re seeing significant pressure, inflationary pressure on wages in Kansas City, like we are in most places in the United States and around the world.  But from a unionization standpoint, the vast union participation rate is in the public sector.  The private sector unionization rate has declined, as it has across the United States.  There are certain – certainly areas and sectors that have been more activity of late, certainly since the beginning of the pandemic.  We’re well below 10 percent in terms of participation rate on the private side, and the public participation rate is upwards of about 18 percent. 

QUESTION:  And do you think that non-unionized jobs is kind of a selling point for European companies coming here?  Because most of the European companies, especially Germans, have to be unionized in Germany or are strongly unionized in Germany, and that they have a different business concept here. 

MR COWDEN:  I appreciate the question.  I think the most compelling aspect that we can give any company regardless of where they are from is choice, because in our region with two states, we have a right-to-work state and a non-right-to-work state.  We have sectors that are – have been historically heavily unionized like automotive.  So really, we provide an opportunity for any company to move in and match the type of operating environment that they’re looking for. 

For example, in Kansas City, Kansas, obviously on the Kansas side, we have a significant facility there tied to General Motors.  We have the highest union participation rate in our region in Kansas City, Kansas, which is a right-to-work state.  So it really just depends on the micro environment that you’re considering, and we have a tremendous amount of choice across 18 counties in two states for our customers to evaluate.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Let’s go to Felix.  Felix, if you wish to enable your video – there you go. 

QUESTION:  Hello.  Good morning – or no, it’s not morning.  Good noon.  Hi.  (Laughter.)  Felix Holtermann, Handelsblatt, Germany’s business daily.  I have a short question.  I visited Raleigh and Chattanooga last week and this week, which was really interesting because we are working on a big report on tech hubs in the U.S.  Perhaps a question to the mayor:  What kind of problems does this – these new tech companies coming to U.S. cities does this big growth bring with, and how do you deal with them in Kansas City?  I’ve learned in Raleigh and Chattanooga, also in Austin, that many American booming cities face the same challenges.  The biggest ones are gentrification, rising house prices, and transportation.  Do you see these problems as well, and what do you do to perhaps overcome them? 

MR COWDEN:  The issues that you raise in other markets, certainly those are available or they’re certainly in every one of these U.S. markets.  Kansas City has not grown as rapidly.  We haven’t seen the growth pressures that Austin or Nashville have over the course of the last – certainly the last three to five years.  But we are addressing those issues.  You talk about affordable housing and the like – we probably want to have somebody that’s tied to that every day like the mayor – you referred to me as mayor; I’m not the mayor.  But we can certainly provide you with some information moving forward on that.   

But we’re challenged with those issues just like every major American city, and we’re implementing, I think, some very thoughtful approaches to alleviate those concerns. 

MR MEYER:  I will just add on: one of the questions you asked was specific to transportation, and just as a resident myself of the city of Kansas City and this region, I’m so impressed not only in the airport project, which I love to talk about, but by the broad steps that are being made to make transportation more accessible for residents of this region.  One of Tim’s slides mentioned a extension of a streetcar service that we have.  That’s growing and creating more — 

QUESTION:  Is this a light rail?  Is this a light rail?    

MR MEYER:  It is essentially a light rail – creating more accessibility to more parts of the region.  And just in the last year, I believe – maybe we’re at the year anniversary – our bus transit operator has moved to a free model where there’s no cost to have access to transportation through the region.  And so, as Tim mentioned, yes, there’s a lot of challenges with any large U.S. city, but there is a couple things like those two specifically that I wanted to call out, that I do think Kansas City is doing really well at. 

QUESTION:  Buses are free in Kansas?   

MR COWDEN:  It’s the – we have the largest city – it’s zero-fare transit.  So our bus transit is zero fare.  That’s been implemented within the last year, it’s very innovative, and when you couple that with our infrastructure, our transportation infrastructure, most people in Kansas City utilize car to get from point A to point B.  So we have a tremendous number per capita of freeway miles, but you layer this zero-fare innovative approach to our transportation system, it certainly creates some tremendous advantage for us.   

QUESTION:  Last question.  So also the streetcars, the light rail, is this also free?  And who is paying for that? 

MR COWDEN:  It is – it’s free to the rider.  There was a transportation district that was created, so those property owners along on the streetcar line are levied an additional tax to provide that, along with matching funds through the federal government. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  I might use this opportunity, since I don’t see any hands raised, to ask a question to Justin.  If you could just tell us a little bit more about the new terminal inclusivity – I understand that that’s one of the aspects that you’re working on, if you could just tell us a little bit more about what makes the airport unique in that respect.   

MR MEYER:  That’s a great question; thank you for asking it.  There’s a lot of limitations – again, and I mentioned the existing facility – it’s been difficult for us to really cater towards all of our travelers.  It’s – thinking of travelers with young infants, right – in the existing facility we only have two nursing rooms.  In the new facility we’ll have 10.  We’re increasing the count of family restrooms significantly.  We’re creating family restrooms that have adult-sized changing tables for travelers that maybe have a dependent that needs assistance.  We are doing something to really help people, travelers become more comfortable with the idea of air travel.  So in the past, we have worked with airlines and our security team to, once or twice a year, bring an opportunity for families perhaps with young travelers on the autism spectrum or families with – that are visually impaired or dealing with dementia to be able to come to the airport and kind of practice the experience.   

That’s a great program, but once or twice a year isn’t enough.  And so we’ve actually created a space in the new terminal where we are constructing a simulated boarding area, a simulated passenger boarding bridge.  And we’ve actually procured the front of an Airbus A321, where we will be constructing that into the terminal space where families can come and practice – practice actually boarding an aircraft, practice buckling seatbelts, practice opening and closing the lavatory, practice stowing their bins or their bags, their luggage in the overhead bins.  And we’ll be delivering that experience from the curb to the airplane and back.  So that’s something that I’m really excited about, is very unique to the United States when it comes to delivering accessibility.  We’ll also have a meditation room really focused on being inclusive of all faiths.  It’s not a prayer room, it’s not a chapel, it’s just a meditation room.  And that’ll be accessible to all of our travelers.  We’re also delivering a sensory room, thinking of, again, maybe travelers on the autism spectrum that need a quieter, less chaotic experience than the typical airport busyness.   

So those are some of the things that I think we can highlight that are going to be significant about the new terminal and our commitment to accessibility and inclusivity.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much for highlighting those.  I’ll just do a last call for questions.  If you do have a question, feel free to – oh, I’ll go to Torsten next. 

QUESTION:  Can’t resist.  We’re talking so much about the airport, you have this tremendous Union Station in the middle of town.  It might – it strikes me that in the middle of this country is Kansas City, and – but I’ve seen no plan for connecting cities faster coming from your town to others with high-speed rail.  Is there any talk about this? 

MR COWDEN:  Well, I am seated – we’re all this seated this morning in Union Station.  That’s where our office is located.  And the legacy in terms of growth of Kansas City is tied to rail, certainly.  So there have been a lot of interesting proposals that I have read about how we can better connect the United States with high-speed rail.  We’ll have to wait and see how that all comes together, but Kansas City’s location in the middle of the United States with significant rail infrastructure in place now – five of the six Class 1 railroads, for example, all have a presence here; we’re served now by Amtrak to the West Coast and back to the East.  That’s a much larger question to be addressed, but Kansas City will be well positioned to take advantage of that if those decisions are made to expand our rail infrastructure moving forward in this country.  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  I’ll give the floor back to you if you have any closing remarks.  I don’t see any more hands raised or questions in the chat.   

MR COWDEN:  Justin, do you have anything you’d like — 

MR MEYER:  I’ll let you close – be the closer closer.  I’ll just lead off and say that I think the one thing I forgot to really mention about our $1.5 billion project is that it’s on time, and on budget, which is something that’s really spectacular, considering the state of the world and the global pandemic, that we’ve been able to keep focused and are set to finish here in the next eight months, to get this project across the finish line.  So really, really proud of the work of everyone to help us get there, and thankful for groups like Tim’s organization to really help Kansas City understand the value and the better experience that’s in the future for us. 

MR COWDEN:  Well, Justin, thank you for joining, and Daphne, to you and all the foreign press representatives, I appreciate your time.   

I would just close with this:  That every generation, there are two or three cities, regions – wherever they may be, globally, but I’m just going to talk about the United States – that emerge.  And they become “it” cities, quotation marks around “it.”  And I want you to follow Kansas City over the course of the next three to six months to the next year, because I am confident that there are going to be some significant, positive announcements that will continue to take Kansas City to this next level, this next trajectory, so to speak, of cities.  And I believe that Kansas City is poised to be that next “it” city in the United States.  And the work that’s being done at the airport with the new terminal is just going to be fuel for those types of decisions and that acclaim that I know that we’re going to receive.   

MODERATOR:  Well, I want to thank both of you very much for participating today, and all the journalists who are logged on.  I think that with your closing remarks, there could be some follow-up questions, and I will follow up with the journalists who are participating with contact information, as well as the slides that were shared today. 

Today’s briefing was on the record.  Please watch your inboxes for upcoming briefings in the City Spotlight series that we will be offering.  And with that, I want to wish everyone a good day.  Thank you. 

MR MEYER:  Thank you.    

U.S. Department of State

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