Student Fellowship

Implementing an Equitable Economic Development Plan in Wyandotte County/Kansas City, KS

Project Area:

Equitable Economic Development


Kansas City, Kansas

Reporting to:

Chief of Staff

The Challenge

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City is celebrating 25 years of unification. The two governments joined to decrease duplicated services, streamline expenses, and reduce the tax burden on residents. Wyandotte County is the fourth most populous county in Kansas, and one of the most diverse communities in the country, with a majority population of black and brown residents. Equitable economic growth, however, has been a challenge. Income levels are below the nation’s average—in 2020, median individual income was $27,558, and median household income was $48,093 (U.S. Census). As the government looks to the next 25 years, it is prioritizing the creation of a robust economic development plan to attract new businesses and industries, as raising taxes is not a viable option for a population that is already overburdened. Furthermore, the county is still recovering from the impact of what researchers have called “the triple pandemic,” with COVID-19’s health, economic, and justice impacts having further exacerbated racial inequity. 

The administration recognizes the challenge in these inequalities and in crafting policy responses to address them. The mayor is committed to working alongside residents and partners to inform pathways to creating and maintaining a strong and vibrant local economy. With 39 offices and departments across the government and multiple external stakeholders, coordination around an equitable economic development plan is essential. City staff shared the need to design a community-informed and unified approach, where different taskforces are brought to the same table to co-create the new economic development plan. This process will be strategically timed to follow the mayor’s grassroots “Racism is a Public Health Matter” initiative launching in March 2023, which will generate useful data to inform the equitable economic development process.

Supported by the core planning team composed of economic development and community engagement staff and a VISTA and Fuse Fellow—with the mayor as a key contributor—the fellow would help establish an intraorganizational and intergovernmental coordination plan, with metro partners (including Board of County Commissioners, KCK Chamber of Commerce, county administrators, other cities part of Wyandotte County like Bonner Springs, Edwardsville, and Lake Quivera), and partners from other levels of government. They would also help assess the local economy to inform recommendations for policies that facilitate equitable economic growth. Key questions that will inform this plan will include: 

  • What do key stakeholders want to see in an equitable economic development strategy? 
  • How ready is the organization to undertake such a task? 
  • What projects currently exist that can be included in the city’s equitable development agenda? 
  • What does the research say regarding the local economy and needs/opportunities that may exist?

What You’ll Do

The fellow’s work will include three key areas: strategic engagement and assessment across systems; internal opportunity review; and economic development research. When relevant, the fellow will make use of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leader Guide for Equitable Economic Development. Key deliverables include: 

  1. Summary report that outlines the goals and expectations of different stakeholders like the Unified Government, County Administrators, KCK Chamber of Commerce, countywide residents, other levels of government, and city departments (including strengths, challenges, and opportunities) and defines collaborative recommendations and strategies, program, policy, and practice initiatives for each. 
  2. An Internal Coordination Opportunity Plan that consolidates all existing departmental and infrastructure plans, highlights their areas of impact/emphasis, and defines their stage of readiness for inclusion in the comprehensive planning process. Key inputs for this include existing plans for economic development, mobility, parks and recreation, public works, the Unified Government Forward Plan, and the City-Wide Master Plan.
  3. At-A-Glance Key Facts document that supports a unified community-wide “pitch.” Key data partners here include Wyandotte County Economic Development Council (WYDEC), Mid-American Regional Council, Unified Government Landbank, and Unified Government Finance/Budgetary Research team.

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis
  • Policy analysis
  • Design thinking
  • Human centered design
  • Stakeholder engagement and management
  • Fluency in Spanish is desirable but not required

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