Rep. Sharice Davids this week brought official Congressional business to the Kansas 3rd Congressional District, specifically to discuss the challenges of small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs.
The first-term Congresswoman led a field hearing alongside Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, Mo., for the U.S. House Small Business Committee on Tuesday morning at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
The hearing, “Silicon Prairie: Tech Innovation and a High-Skilled Workforce in the Heartland,” included testimony from various stakeholders in business, technology, capital investment, state departments and other groups to examine the current state of the high-tech small business workforce and their challenges, particularly for startups and entrepreneurs located outside technology hubs.
Davids said bringing together local organizations that support startups and entrepreneurs — such as Overland Park-based SnapIT Solutions and Kansas City, Missouri-based AltCap — as well as the secretaries of labor and commerce is a collaborative process that goes into the Congressional record.
“Having all of them in the same room sharing their ideas, it’s of course going to be helpful at the federal level for purposes of figuring out what are the best programs for us to be supporting,” she said. “But it will also be helpful for the state-level folks to hear how the work that they’re doing ties in, whether it’s workforce development (or) bridging the gap of access to capital.”
Witnesses who gave testimony at the hearing included:
- David Toland, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce
- Delía García, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor
- Thomas Salisbury, Regional Administrator, Region VII of the Small Business Administration
- Neelima Parasker, President and Chief Executive Officer of SnapIT Solutions in Overland Park
- Ruben Alonso III, President of AltCap in Kansas City, Missouri
- Tammie Wahaus, Chief Executive Officer of Elias Animal Health in Olathe
- Brad Sandt, President and Chief Executive Officer of Menlo, K12itc, Civic ITC in Kansas City, Missouri
- Daniel Silva, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Kansas City Kansas Chamber of Commerce
The hearing was also an opportunity for small business owners and experts to discuss innovative solutions to address small business employee shortages, according to Davids’ office. For instance, Davids noted that the Kansas City area has a strong workforce, but the area does face the challenge of identifying the needs of a 21st century workforce.
“When people think about entrepreneurship and tech and startups and founders and access to capital, a lot of times you only hear about a couple of coastal cities,” Davids said, adding that she hopes to “spread the good word of Kansas” in terms of the entrepreneurship and startup ecosystem at work in the Midwest and particularly the Kansas City metro area.
“I think it’s just really important for those of us in elected and appointed positions to hear directly from the people who are living and breathing the impacts of the policy that we’re creating,” she added.
While noting that the field hearing itself is important, Davids said Tuesday morning’s events created a gathering space for all of these stakeholders to have important conversations of their own — similarly to what her staff experiences during her periodic public forums over other topics such as mental health, student debt and veterans’ needs when transitioning to civic life.
For instance, even as she spoke, Davids noticed the executive director of the KCK Chamber of Commerce having a side conversation with one of the program managers of AltCap. Noting that AltCap just started its services on the Kansas side, Davids said that type of relationship could further both organizations’ reach into the communities they serve.
“This is part of the Congressional record, which is very important, but every time we have an event where there is a group of people that comes together to talk about the work that they’re doing, the relationship-building and networking that happens, it’s really phenomenal,” Davids said. “They’re almost like ‘value add’ for something like this. They’re really cool additional benefits of this sort of thing that are outside of the policy that we’re trying to improve.”