Joel Kotkin, a nationally known expert on why people choose to live where they live, delivered a comforting message to the audience gathered for the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce 2016 Annual Meeting Wednesday.
“You have good schools, low crime and nice parks, it’s not rocket science why people want to live in a place like this,” he said. “What Overland Park is doing is providing a large part of the population with what they want.”
Kotkin also painted a bright future for Overland Park, saying its combination of affordable housing and good job opportunities will make it appealing to the millennial generation, those people now in their 20s and early 30s.
“Millennials have may of the same aspirations as their parents,” he said. “Fundamentally, they still want a single-family home, good schools and a good environment. Their incomes are not sufficient to buy a house in the coastal areas.
“As housing affordability becomes harder, people are beginning to vote with their feet.”
Before Kotkin was introduced, Michael Tracy, the new board chairman of the Overland Park Chamber, pointed out that in the 50 years since the organization was founded in 1967 the city has grown from about 25,000 people to close to 190,000.
He said the priority for community development moving forward would be to encourage projects that would improve Overland Park’s “quality of place.”
Kotkin, who’s latest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us,” observed that Overland Park, which has been nationally recognized for its quality of life, is in a good niche.
He observed that while its an important suburb of Kansas City, it’s also becoming more self-sufficient.
“We provide a lot of what cities can provide and provide a lot of jobs,” he said. “You’re building the next Kansas City, you’re part of the future of Kansas City and playing an increasingly pivotal role in the entire region.”
Kotkin also dismissed the idea that young people are leaving the suburbs en masse for urban living, saying the majority still prefer living outside the city. He noted national statistics that show the suburban areas grew by 800,000 people in 2010-15 and urban areas dropped 600,000.
“This idea that suburbs are dead and not cutting edge is wrong,” he told the audience.
Tracy, the new Overland Park Chamber chairman, is owner and managing principal of OMNI Human Resource Management. He succeeds outgoing chairman Brad Stratton, president and CEO of Overland Park Wealth Management.
Chamber highlights cited for 2016 included: 1,700 new and retained jobs; completion of a major renovation of the Chamber headquarters in Corporate Woods; 127 new members, and major construction projects including BluHawk; CityPlace; Building II at Nall Corporate Centre; Diagnostic Imaging Centers headquarters; TEVA pharmacy expansion; The Vue and Avenue 80 office, retail and apartments; The Promontory, and 6601 College Boulevard.