Shawnee businesses cite need for stronger workforce, government responsiveness

Members of the business community in Shawnee attended a focus group Aug. 20 for the city’s Imagine Shawnee strategic planning process.

When it comes to the future of the city of Shawnee — and the growth of business and economy — workforce density and government responsiveness were two key elements identified as needs of the business community.

About 40 members of the business community in Shawnee met in a business focus group Aug. 20 to talk about the challenges and opportunities of growing and maintaining a business in the city. The focus group is part of the city’s first strategic visioning process, Imagine Shawnee.

“I think the best way to state it is… the city needs a long-term vision that the residents and the governing body commit to, even through road blocks,” said one resident participating in the business focus group.

The group also discussed areas of opportunity and strength as well as issues that can be improved for businesses. One noteworthy, “divisive” issue in Shawnee is also the perception of an east-west divide that pits the interests and goals of residents from the eastern and western sides of the city against each other.

Assistant City Manager Caitlin Gard encouraged residents to discourage the kind of talk that divides the city.

“That’s the very first thing that we can start talking about because this is one Shawnee, and we’re really trying to move it forward,” Gard said. “We have to provide the services to all 67,000 of us, not east Shawnee and west Shawnee.”

Gard also noted that the business community would see a variety of housing opportunities to strengthen the workforce in the city.

Ann Smith-Tate, president and chief executive officer of the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce, said her hope is that the Imagine Shawnee creates an environment in which both businesses and residents can thrive.

“We’re creating this plan for the entire community, and that business community, even in the non-business focus groups I’ve been a part of, that commercial base is important,” Smith-Tate said. “It’s a stated goal of the city to get their assessed commercial value up around 35%.”

Smith-Tate said the chamber staff hopes to identify other needs of the business community as part of its own strategic planning. That could mean entrepreneurial assistance or more creative ways to incentivize development, or some other support systems for businesses. The group was also an opportunity to open up dialogue in the community about challenges and opportunities of growing a business in Shawnee, she added.

City Manager Nolan Sunderman said it’s been interesting to hear feedback from the business community as the steering committee continues the data-gathering process of Imagine Shawnee.

“It’s good that we’ve got both the business community and the education community in the room and identify ways to partner with the chamber, schools and businesses, create those partnerships,” Sunderman said, adding that representatives from the Shawnee Mission and DeSoto school districts participated in the business focus group as well.

Full results of focus groups will be posted on the city’s website. The next Imagine Shawnee general imagineering session is 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 12 at Tomahawk Hills Golf Course, 17501 Midland Drive.