Kansas – the cool place Dorothy calls home

Next stop on our International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) tour zigzagging across America is Kansas City, MO.  The first thing we learned is a common trivia question – what US city can be found in 2 states?  Answer: Kansas City – there is a city in Missouri as well as in the state of Kansas….and they are not that close to one another either.  Confusing, I know.  I had a hard time keeping it straight.

While in our group, only Nancy had been to Kansas before, the rest of us were questioning whether or not we would make it. While we were in Washington, the unusual snowstorms and blizzards in the Midwest were top news headlines.  And for as much as we were aware, there was no plan B.  In the end, our flight to Kansas was smooth as silk arriving a few hours after the last sign of snow.  Mounds of snow & chilly temperatures reminded me of the weather that I left behind in Ottawa.

Full of surprises

I had no idea what to expect from Kansas City (aka ‘KC’ in local speak). Over the 4 days, I was surprised by:

– there is a winery – Amigoni Urban Winery – located in the heart of downtown!

– the number of businesses head quartered here – Hallmark Cards, Harley Davidson, H&R Block to name a few
the importance of railroad – trains & tracks were everywhere. The wail of trains blended into the background buzz of the city

– the downtown core was immaculate & a fantastic combination of modern architecture speckled amongst historic buildings that have revitalized with renovations  or as I learned from Stephanie who works with the City of Montreal who is a designer of public spaces, the architectural term is ‘reconversion’  (the Union Station was brought back to life and now houses KC Greater Chamber of Commerce, post office, law firms, museums and restaurants. Amtrak still has some scheduled trains that pass through this historic station.

– a vibrant arts culture – a brand new Performing Arts Centre, Kansas City Ballet had their own building & restaurants and bar everywhere were promoting live jazz and blues – every night of the week.

– small businesses are rapidly growing & being supported by private investors – not government funding

– business people we met were fiercely proud of the city’s growth and were eager to tell us about the innovative programs and resources that were going on.

– Kansas City – in both Missouri & Kansas is THE first US city to have Google Fiber installed ensuring highest internet connections available to support businesses, schools and homes. Impressive!

– every restaurant we went to was full…every night of the week!

– there are 5 James Beard award winning chefs  – the most in any city in the US (so I was told)

– people we met were happy to live in KC.  While some expressed that thought their arrival to KC would be a pit stop, they amazed themselves that after 10+ years, they haven’t moved!

and believe it or not, there are 111 wineries in the state of Missouri. That is almost the same as in Niagara!

The net-net…

I felt that there is a great vibe about this place.  And during our 4 day stay, we only brushed the surface of places to see, things to do and business opportunities to explore.  I leave KC with even more reasons to return – soon!

Different from Washington’s itinerary, where we were informed about the various federal processes and programs for small businesses and women entrepreneurs, in KC we delved into how these programs are implemented at the state level as well as at the city level.

We met with individuals of the US Department of Commerce, World Trade Centre, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, American Business Women’s Association, Women’s Business Centre and even went to an early morning “Meet me for coffee” networking breakfast hosted by Entercom (radio stations), One KCfor Women and Smart KC Connect

Then, we stopped in to meet Jayne Torline (left) – one of the owners of Three Women & an Oven.  A premium bakery that has skyrocketed from a trio of neighbouring stay at home Moms who make birthday cakes for friends to a business with a 2000 sq foot operation 10 years later with over 15 full time employees.

I felt a natural connection with Jayne.  As she explained her business’ story of growth, it was similar in many ways to the growth of Savvy Company. Three Women & an Oven have marked their 10th year in business this year, they grew the business organically – without loans from family & friends, and have clients beyond the city where they are located. Focused on quality, every product is handmade with butter.  Jayne now hires artists to create the incredible cake designs.  We spent an hour oooohing & aaawwwhing over her creations of cookies, baby cakes and the elegant décor of the retail store.  Then we were invited ‘backstage’ to tour the production area to watch the creative process transforming plan cake layers into delicious masterpieces. Everyone in the team had a great smile and were obviously proud of their work.  And Jayne treated us to a box of goodies that I enjoyed with a cup of tea when I put my feet up at the hotel after a hectic day. Each mouthful of the Lemon Raspberry, Red Velvet, Decadent Chocolate Baby cakes along with the stunning Sugar Cookies (right) were simply delicious.  It was hard to eat them as each were gorgeous to look at and sparkled in any light.  It is no wonder that, as Jayne explained, most of the items purchased are given as gifts. And they ship across the US – overnight!

And while it was Friday – week one of the tour complete – we did not stop!  On Saturday, we visited the Harry Truman Library & Museum and drove past his residence (as he was a native of Missouri), the one-of-a-kind underground storage facility called Subtropolis.  A retrofitted limestone mine was transformed into underground offices, storage & distribution centres.  Businesses such as Hallmark, Jack Stacks and food distributors are located here.  The mine come storage facility is naturally cool with constant temperatures, secure and has already existing railroad tracks into the mine.  During the week, this place is apparently a beehive of activity. Very cool! I could imagine that it would be an ideal location to have a wine cellaring operation with its cool, dark and not disturbed.


The food and wine scene caught me by surprise too

Each meal we had was impressive – Harvey’s at Union Station, Jack Stacks was easily recommended as THE place to go for KC’s famous ribs.  We were told that the Majestic was THE restaurant & jazz bar for phenomenal steaks – and they certainly did not disappoint.  If only the walls of this historic locale could talk – upon entry we were taken back in time into the mobster & speakeasy era. Well worn ivory keys of the piano, black & white photos adorned the walls, sky high ceilings decorated with tin panels and a mahogany wood & mirrored bar. (group photo L to R Fiona, me, Jennifer, Stephanie, Amina & Nancy)

Consentino’s Market (KC’s only downtown grocery store) displayed all of the rib spices, steak rubs & spicy BBQ sauces that the city is known for.  A walk to Cellar Rats was definitely worth it where I discovered one of the top wine stores in KC.  Beautifully laid out, the staff was eager to share ideas with me about their wine club, their tasting events and artisan cheese selection.

Then we decided to ‘do as the Romans do’ by taking part in First Fridays where the Crossroads area of the city comes alive with  people wandering around & popping in and out of the art galleries in the area.  It was a lovely crisp winter evening, and we did not let the cold get in the way of having a fun Friday night.  To top it all off, we stopped in at the happening restaurant – The Jacobson  – that was recommended to us and we just happened to be around the corner at the time. Another place with great vibe & energy, the food was incredible.  Instead of wine, I adventure to the beer list to try the local Boulevard Beers.  Everything about this evening did not disappoint – culture, a much needed walk and great food along with lots of laughs with the girls as we tried to navigate our way through the neighbourhood.

And this tour is not all about business meetings, there is an element of meeting the locals too.  Fiona, Nancy & I were invited to the home of Marti Means – a renowned prosecutor who as described in her bio, “has prosecuted over 50,000 municipal court cases involving city ordinance violations, mental health and domestic violence issues as well as child abuse and housing cases.”  Marti explained that she frequently hosts IVLP participants in her home and invites more friends to make it into a fun dinner party.  Lively discussions around the dinner table compared US healthcare to Canada’s, news of Obama and his government, the timely news of the impact of the sequester and the opportunity to showcase our businesses with the others around the table.  This home hospitality was certainly a highlight of our time traveling around Kansas & Missouri.

As you can see, we left few stones unturned & made several discoveries during our visit to America’s Heartland.

Set the alarm clock as we have an early start in the morning in order to catch our flights to our next stop Austin, Texas.  The good news is that there is no snowstorm in the forecast.

Follow us on Twitter!

For in the moment tweets about our tour, follow our group on #IVLP and

  • @savvydebbie (Debbie Trenholm)
  • @Halifax_Gateway (Nancy Phillips)
  • @JenniferBrandle (Jennifer Brandle)
  • @PillPak (Fiona Webster Mourant)
  • @amigerba (Amina Gerba)


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