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International awareness and jobs in the Kansas City region: An op-ed, part 1

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The greater Kansas City region—defined by this author as everything as far west as Lawrence and even Topeka, Kansas, as far north as St. Joseph, Missouri, as far east as Whiteman Air Force Base, and as far south as Harrisonville and Warrensburg—is not really known as a center of international relations, geopolitics, diplomacy, or national security. Aside from the prestigious command college at Fort Leavenworth, it’s not really a hub of intellectual thought on these subjects either.

Moreover, it’s far removed from our national decision making process 1,075 miles to the east, and most of the think-tanks, advocacy groups, academic institutions, scholarly journals, and other organizations associated with this field are headquartered well outside of the territorial bounds of this great region.

Sure, we have the national World War I museum at the Liberty Memorial; and we occasionally here about the B-2 stealth bombers that take off from Whiteman to bomb Libyan forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, and of course, they played an instrumental role in “Operation Shock and Awe” at the beginning of the Iraq War. But, even with regards to one of the United States’ most stunning examples of its air supremacy and technological prowess, most Kansas-Citians are more accustomed to the incredible stealth flyovers that regularly take place over I-435, or Arrowhead Stadium—like the flyover at last season’s Chief’s playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

This is not to say the people of the region are uninformed. Thanks to the internet, the global media, and the 24 hour news cycle, we’re constantly inundated with information about politics—both foreign and domestic. Moreover, Kansas City is home to an international airport, an international trade council, and a foreign trade zone. Our sister cities include Seville, Spain, Ramla, Israel, and Port Harcourt, Nigeria, to name three. We have great Mexican restaurants, like Las Corrals off 9th and Broadway downtown, and awesome Thai food places, like Tasty Thai in the northland and in Liberty. Ma Ma China in Raytown is an award winning establishment (see here, here, and here), and the Brazilian steakhouse, Em Chamas in St. Joseph, and the northland is also delightful. The thoughtful scholar understands this to be the highly effective soft-power projection of nations like Mexico, Thailand, China, and Brazil, respectively. But, really, what does it all mean?

For the serious student, job seeker, regular “buff,” and even the occasional scholar, the region has little to offer—a fact of life that sometimes necessitates relocation.

This is critical, especially since jobs remain the number one issue on our national agenda. As of August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment was sitting at 9.1% nationally (as of this writing, this is still the case). That’s only slightly worse than Missouri, which was sitting at 8.8%, and Kansas which was at 6.7%. Sure, the United Nations is located in New York, New York. Sure, the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Defense are by and large in Washington, D.C. But, unfortunately, the bulk of work these fields (geopolitics, international relations, diplomacy, national security, etc.) generate throughout our region requires people to enlist in the military or join the defense industry (organizations like General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman, and Booze Allen Hamilton often emerge on or around military bases). Alas, even most of these jobs, like Human Terrain Systems positions at places like Fort Leavenworth, for instance, require masters’ degrees or PhDs; and this is made all the more alarming in this age of austerity, which will undoubtedly lead to substantial budgetary cuts for the Defense Department.

Take the late, great Ralph Parker, for example. Ralph, a previous contributor to this author’s reports, graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2008 with a degree in Political Science. Before Ralph was killed in a tragic auto accident, he developed a passion for international relations; he was even an active member of UMKC’s Model United Nations team. Mostly focusing on Middle Eastern politics, this author half expected Ralph to be a key player in the future development of the Middle East peace process. Unable to find rewarding work here in Kansas City, it was Ralph’s intention to move to Miami, Florida, study law, and tackle the immigration issues plaguing our nation’s southern border.

Then, there’s Natalie and Kenney Newville. Kenney, a passionate conservative who had previously supported Mitt Romney, and volunteered for Congressman Sam Graves, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri. Natalie, who had previously been elected the president of MWSU’s Student Government Association, also earned a history degree from Western, and a political science degree that largely emphasized international relations.

According to Natalie, who was originally from Sedalia, MO, neither could find jobs in their fields after graduation. Both spent time in retail, and even looked for employment outside of the local markets. “With the issues with the economy,” says Natalie, “there were [just too] few jobs available.”

Kenney, a St. Joseph native, “wanted to travel and experience a culture outside the U.S.” And, like his wife, he wanted to get paid for it. So, the two used various websites (see here, here, and here) to research teaching opportunities outside of the U.S. They ended up moving all the way to South Korea, where they’re now working for You & I English Academy.

Of course, given the nation’s sluggish economy, it may be difficult to alter this reality. Organizations like STRATFOR in Austin, Texas don’t just materialize without leadership, capital, and, in some cases, demand. However, given the impact of globalization—yes, even on the Kansas City region—something must be done. We need more education and more economic development in this region, targeted specifically at the fields of international relations and national security, which should be considered all the more important in the age of globalization.

Thankfully, some of these things are changing.

Take an incredibly awesome new blog (forgive the author for slipping into a bit of self-serving adulation), by a local Kansas City author, that just popped up at the end of September. “Blast Shields Up!” is a blog by Dr. Daniel G. Cox—another former contributor to this author’s reports (see here, and here)—that “is designed to serve as a sounding board for all aspects of national security,” international relations, and foreign policy issues. Cox, a co-author of Terrorism, Instability, and Democracy in Asia and Africa, is a professor of political science at the U.S. Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth. It is his hope that Blast Shields Up! will “engender a lively discussion” on all sorts of international issues. And more than that, the blog is both intriguing and interesting.

Although it is still new, Cox has shared a number of important articles; and his blog emphasizes how integral Fort Leavenworth’s educational mission is to the region, and to the educational fortitude of our nation’s security apparatus. Just take the free access the military offers through the Combat Studies Institute Press to a number of books and monographs, including Population-Centric Counterinsurgency: A False Idol?, a new book co-edited by Cox.

Engendering an environment more conducive to international awareness in the Kansas City region is going to take more than just a blog though (regardless of how awesome or informative it is).

That’s exactly what organizations such as the Kansas City International Relations Council, which provides “world affairs programming” to the region, and the Kansas City International Visitors Council (KCIVC), which attempts “to improve global understanding” by making “peace through exchange programs between international visitors and Americans in our communities,” are trying to do. Like the KCIVC, People to People International, which is also headquartered in Kansas City, promotes “international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures.”

Then, of course, there are organizations like the Global Orphan Project in Parkville, which seeks to mobilize churches on behalf of “the neediest orphaned and vulnerable children” on Earth.

For the most part, however, these organizations are small 501 (c) 3 nonprofit corporations. Yes, they are making strides in educating the community. But, in terms of employment, their size, scope, and resources prevent these organizations from becoming major engines of economic growth.

Given the nature of globalization, its impact on the region, threats like terrorism, the nation’s sluggish economic growth and the need to address the nation’s jobs problem, it is important for the city, nay, the region, to do more to keep, and otherwise attract the brightest minds of these fields. To do this, we need a strong international educational infrastructure, and we need to do more to attract businesses and other organizations with global vision, global reach, and global interests.

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