According to the Brookings Institution Metro Monitor 2019, per data from 2016–2017, Kansas City ranked 78th in economic growth out of the 100 largest metro areas in the United States. St. Louis fared a little better at 69th. Kansas City ranked 84th in prosperity (measured by productivity, standard of living, and wage growth); St. Louis ranked 52nd. Missouri’s cities are underperforming.
The Kansas City metro area, despite all the talk about innovation and tech jobs, scored 81st in percentage change in jobs at young firms—one of the worst performances in the United States.
Missouri’s top cities spend hundreds of millions of dollars on incentives and subsidies each year in an effort to improve the economy. Exactly what have we gotten in return for all this spending?
Report after report details exactly how St. Louis and Kansas City have given away such a huge amount in incentives. We’ve rebuilt downtown Kansas City, yet haven’t grown or created jobs in any meaningful way. In fact, it appears we’ve actually overbuilt Kansas City. The population of St. Louis is actually shrinking despite all the investment.
Any reasonable person would look at this and conclude that while these incentives and subsidies may make wealthy developers wealthier, they aren’t actually creating very many jobs or doing much to increase investment. That is certainly what the research says.
So why are we still doing it?