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After winning the “Mr. K Award” as the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year, Fahteema Parrish, president and founder of Parrish & Sons Construction, is congratulated by Community America Credit Union CEO Lisa Ginter at the annual KC Chamber Small Business Celebration, June 14.

A complex, inclusive ecosystem fuels the engine for economic growth

Joe Reardon breaks down how the KC Chamber works to support small business and bolster entrepreneurship-focused economic development in Kansas City.

Written by Lauren Aleshire

A thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem can help communities grow businesses, employ local residents, and keep a diverse and attractive economy, which is why the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation recently granted the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) significant support for Entrepreneurship-Led Economic Development (ELED) education.

IEDC provides entrepreneurship education that offers local solutions toward developing a complex entrepreneurial network that more effectively serves communities, especially those that are historically marginalized.

Joe Reardon, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, dives into what entrepreneurial ecosystem building is, and how the impact it has on small businesses in Kansas City can, and should, be modeled across the country.

How does supporting a complex entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kansas City grow new and small businesses?

Reardon: Entrepreneurship happens in systems. Entrepreneurs interact with – and depend upon – the people and resources around them. The new businesses they form are the result of countless complex interactions in a community. In other words, a group of individual parts interact to produce something as a collective whole.

Fahteema Parrish, president and founder of Parris & Sons Construction, poses for a photo holding the Mr. K Award she received at the KC Chamber Small Business Celebration. She is joined by Joe Reardon from the Greater Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce, and Philip Gaskin from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Meet this year’s Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year and Mr. K Award recipient, Fahteema Parrish, president of Parrish & Sons Construction. Read more >

Entrepreneurs are people who turn ideas into reality, creating value in many ways. They start new businesses; some grow small companies into big ones. They bring innovative solutions to the market, and they address social and community challenges. Entrepreneurs help drive progress, and supporting small business is good economic policy. Look around Kansas City and you will see powerful evidence of that, for example, Cerner was once named the Chamber’s Small Business of the Year, receiving the coveted Mr. K Award – there’s also H&R Block, Hallmark, Garmin, Helzberg Diamonds, and more.

Entrepreneurs and small business drive progress and the Chamber seeks to act as a connector of our vibrant business community across industries and with businesses of all sizes.

What does Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem look like? Where can we improve?

Reardon: The systems in which entrepreneurs work are complex because there are many people, organizations, resources, conditions, and interconnections involved that combine to form a greater whole, and that’s true in Kansas City, too. What we’ve learned is that, while the system is robust, it’s not as connected as we would like it to be.

The Chamber leads the Access to Capital task force and is working to address and break down systemic barriers to economic growth in our historically underrepresented communities by connecting bankers with entrepreneur-support organizations and small business owners. This work is just beginning, but together with our strategic partners, we’ll be working to change the inequities in banking for a more inclusive future. Improving that connectivity so that system can lead to better support for small businesses of all sizes.

The great news in Kansas City is that there is an enthusiasm to support entrepreneurs and continue to build KC’s small business community.

Of the actions taken in KC, which would you encourage other cities to adopt? What would the potential impact be for cities poised for entrepreneurial growth?

Reardon: The creation and fostering of small and entrepreneurial businesses is where the rubber meets the road. Entrepreneurship is progress. Small business represents an economic growth engine for its community and every city should be involved in supporting those businesses.

Robust ecosystems allow entrepreneurs to access the knowledge and resources they need to succeed. Knowledge may include answers to logistical questions (“How do I get my export license?”); solutions to points of friction (“How do I help my team to function better?”); or responses to simple inquiries. A thriving ecosystem encourages people to ask these questions and offers an abundance of easy ways for them to find the answers. It’s about supporting those businesses in a direct way while lifting them up and celebrating them that really can help gain momentum for further entrepreneurial activity.

If IEDC can change the way ecosystem builders – especially policymakers, at all levels – approach economic development in communities and regions across the country, what do you think the impact could be?

Reardon: Policymakers need to understand the potential impact of any support they provide. Policies can determine the conditions in which entrepreneurs operate and the quality of the resources they can access in more subtle ways.

The more often leaders from parts of the ecosystem meet in the same room to share ideas, collaborate, and work on common goals – to form connections – the more effective the system can be at helping entrepreneurs.

The KC Chamber focuses on growing the region’s economy through public policy, by increasing visibility and connectivity, and providing solutions that lead to growth.

Joe Reardon is president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce representing more than 2,200 member businesses throughout the Kansas City region. His goal is to cultivate and maintain collaboration between business leaders, government, and nonprofits across the Kansas City region in ways that will continue to propel Kansas City forward as an innovative and progressive place to do business and live. Reardon was a two-term mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, from 2005-2013.