The Kansas City Area:
A Really Smart Place For Call Centers
By James Beatty, NCS International, Inc.
The Kansas City Area Development Council, which is the economic
development entity serving this 17 county, 50 community, bi-state area of
Missouri and Kansas with a population of over two million people, proudly
boasts in their information that this is a smart area. After spending a
few days in the area, I can attest to not only the smartness of the area,
but to the variety of intellect, brains and wit at the multiple call
centers I had the opportunity and privilege to visit during my
There are 75 call centers in the area, employing some 23,745 people. The
Kansas City economic development service area encompasses Missouri cities
such as St. Joseph, Kansas City, Independence, Lee's Summit and Raytown.
Kansas communities include Kansas City, Olathe, Lawrence, Overland Park,
Topeka, Shawnee and Lenexa.
This regional economic model makes it easy for call center site selection
prospects to cover significant territory with just one call. I was
particularly impressed with the variety of industries that had customer
care, customer service and contact centers in the area.
Industries such as pharmaceuticals, software, cable, telecommunications,
finance, insurance, real estate, manufacturing, data processing, government,
retail, transportation and utilities are well represented, with their call
centers providing services and employment in the Kansas City metroplex.
This wealth of knowledge and experience in the area is not by any means
new, as one need only look at the world-renowned Midwest Research Institute
to understand and appreciate the legacy of innovation that permeates the
area. The Midwest Research Institute (MRI) was established in 1944 to supply
needed research to industry and to encourage programs using regional
resources. While serving as the Research and Development arm for the J.A.
Folger Company in the 1950s, MRI actually created a brewing device that
became the principle behind today's automatic drip coffeemakers. MRI
scientists also successfully invented the coating process that ensured that
M&Ms candies 'melt in your mouth, not in your hands.' True story!
The 2001 population of the Kansas City, Missouri MSA is
1,803,445, which is an increase of 198,798 over the 1991 figures according
to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
Labor Force, Employment And Unemployment
As of October 2002, the Kansas City MSA had a labor force of
1,037,751, with 985,447 people employed and a 5 percent unemployment rate
The area has successfully added 148,942 jobs since 1991, which is
a rate of growth of 18.2 percent, versus the overall U.S. rate of growth,
which was 14.7 percent over the same time period.
The area proudly boasts that 86.7 percent of its population over
25 has a high school diploma, compared to 80.4% of the U.S. population.
Additionally, 28.5 percent of the area's population over 25 has at least a
Bachelor's degree, versus 24.4 percent of the general U.S. population. The
area really is smart!
The per capita income for the area is $20,374, versus $18,491 for
the U.S. as a whole, with a median household income of $42,221 versus
$38,365 for the U.S. This clearly demonstrates that for the most part, there
are two workers per household.
Selected Mean Wage Levels In The Kansas City MSA
First line supervisors $18.66
Bill and account collectors $12.03
Customer service representatives $12.82
Order clerks $12.40
Information clerks $10.47
Computer operators $14.88
Data-entry keyers $10.71
As I visited with several HR managers in the area, it was apparent that
starting call center wages range from $10.00 to $12.00 plus benefits, and
are considered competitive.
Office market lease space ranges from a high of $21.99 in Class A
central business district to $19.71 Class A in the suburbs. Class B space
ranges from a high of $16.48 in the suburbs to $16.13 in the central
Colleges/Universities In The Area
Contact centers, call centers and customer service operations can
successfully recruit from 25 four-year and two-year higher education
institutions in the area, all of which have a combined enrollment of 123,148
Four-year Colleges And Universities
Name & Enrollment Fall 2001
Avila College 1,644
Baker University 2,919
Benedictine College 1,348
Central Missouri State University 10,822
Devry Institute Of Technology 2,620
Haskell Indian Nations University 1,013
Kansas City Art Institute 531
MidAmerican Nazarene University 1,684
Missouri Western State College 5,102
Park University 1,510
Rockhurst University 2,730
Saint Mary College 772
University Of Kansas 28,190
University of Missouri-Kansas City 12,969
Washburn University 6,118
Webster University 854
William Jewell College 1,369
TOTAL FOUR-YEAR ENROLLMENT 82,915
Two-year Colleges And Universities
Name Enrollment Fall 2001
Donnelly College 370
Johnson County Community College 17,116
Kansas City Community College 5,240
Blue River Community College 2,294
Business And Technology College N/A
Longview Community College 5,792
Maple Woods Community College 5,045
Penn Valley Community College 4,376
TOTAL TWO-YEAR ENROLLMENT 40,233
In fact, the community colleges offer programs for customer service
representative and call center management training. These classes' duration
ranges from one day to six weeks, and they include topics such as critical
thinking, team building and managing stress, call handling and call center
management laws. The Metropolitan Community College even manages a
64-position call center to provide contract training for area businesses.
The Kansas City area has plenty of fiber backbone and is
protected with more than 60 SONET rings. According to a study entitled, 'The
Internet Backbone and the American Metropolis,' Kansas City also ranked
eighth in the U.S. with its Internet backbone capacity.
There are 13 POPS, or points of presence, in the area as well as multiple
local and network providers. These providers include AT&T, Everest
Communications, Qwest, Sprint (which has its world headquarters in the area)
MCI, SBC, Level 3 Communications, Axon Telecom, Time Warner, Williams, Kinet
and Intermedia, to name a few. There are almost 28,000 telecommunications
workers in the area.
There are 75 call centers in the area, with some household names such as H&R
Block, Sprint, Community America, Farmers Insurance, Daimler Chrysler,
Caremark and Principal Residential Mortgage Inc.
I was very impressed during my visit to H&R Block, as they had just
received a call from a TV station to conduct a telethon that evening for the
area Red Cross to help tornado victims. They had all of two or three hours'
notice and graciously made their facility available, staffed with
volunteers. This sense of community spirit and pride was evident everywhere
I visited and has to be the reason for the low turnover in the area's call
centers. In some cases, turnover is under five percent!
It was also a treat to learn about the formal networking that exists
among the many call center executives in the area through their
organization, the Professional Teleservice Management Association, or PTMA.
The PTMA is committed to the ongoing professional development and training
for call center managers in the area and serves as a very visible commitment
to excellence in call center management. I saw several PTMA banners gracing
the walls of selected call centers that had been recognized for their
excellence. Learn more about this organization by visiting their Web site at
The area certainly has had to deal with its share of closings and
downsizing, as 1,646 jobs had been impacted in 2002 and 2003. However, true
to their Midwest work ethic, the Kansas City Area Development Corporation (KCADC)
is still aggressively pursuing more call center operations as the region has
demonstrated its ability to grow and create jobs. Any expanding operation
should take a long, hard look at this great area, and start by visiting the
KCADC Web site, www.smartkc.com.
Please send me your comments, suggestions and thoughts at
[email protected] or at
Remember to visit
www.callcentersites. net, the official site for call center and
back-office location information worldwide.
For information and subscriptions,
visit www.tmcnet.com or call
James Beatty is president of NCS International, Inc., which
specializes in corporate site selection, community analysis and marketing.
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