High-Tech HQ Leaving Kansas City Suburbs for Downtown

Kevin Collison, Kanas City Star
November 16, 2011
DSI bringing 150 high-salary jobs, says being in urban center will be just right for its recruiting efforts.


DSI, a global high-tech software company in Overland Park, is moving its headquarters and 150 employees to downtown Kansas City.

It’s believed to be the first significant suburban company to make the switch downtown since a multi-billion-dollar revival began a decade ago. The firm said it thought a downtown location would boost the recruiting of younger and more tech-savvy employees.

Reinforced by a $6.3 million incentive package from Missouri, DSI plans to occupy space in the 1201 Walnut office tower this March.

It’s now in the College Boulevard office corridor at 7801 W. 110th St.

“The space we’re in now doesn’t support the vision I have for the firm,” said Matt McGraw, president and CEO of DSI, which stands for Data Systems International. “When I started coming downtown I got the feel and vision for what it would be like being downtown.

“We need younger and more progressive people and we believe it will be a huge recruiting tool for us.”

DSI also will be bringing at least 125 high-paying jobs with a minimum salary of $100,000, according to documents filed with the Kansas City Council. The company is seeking property tax abatements from the city, and its request is on the agenda of today’s Council Planning and Zoning Committee.

The DSI decision occurs within the framework of the metropolitan border war for businesses. Kansas dangled several million dollars to keep the firm. It also comes at a time when downtown, despite the huge investments made in improvements such as the entertainment district, Sprint Center, Kauffman Center and new housing, still has been losing jobs to the suburbs

Just two months ago, AMC Entertainment announced it was moving its headquarters and 400 employees from downtown to Leawood.

Applebee’s International did recently move its headquarters from Lenexa to Kansas City, but to a suburban-style location on Ward Parkway.

“DSI is the largest College Boulevard company to come down here in a long time,” said Jon Copaken, a principal at Copaken Brooks, which manages 1201 Walnut.

“It’s further validation of a lot of things that a lot of us are talking about downtown,” said Copaken, who’s also a former chairman of the Downtown Council.

“DSI is looking at the next generation of employees, the kind who want to go to Chicago and New York where everybody wants to be.”

DSI ( originally began in Kansas City 32 years ago, where it developed bar-code technology for businesses.

It moved to its Overland Park location in 1992. It has evolved over the years to providing mobile technology to help companies increase productivity, primarily through its flagship product, dcLINK.

Besides its Kansas City area workforce, which is expected to reach 152 people by the time the firm moves downtown, DSI has hundreds of other employees around the world with major offices in the United Kingdom and Singapore, and other locations including Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia.

Though McGraw is not a city resident — he lives on a farm between Harrisonville and Lee’s Summit — he recognized that many of the people who worked for his firm or used its services were accustomed to being in an urban environment.

“It makes a difference when you can bring people to your space and walk around instead of drive,” he said. “A lot of people are used to that in their cities.”

The firm chose the 1201 Walnut building because of its location near the Kansas City Power & Light District and Sprint Center, and its flexibility. DSI plans to invest $15 million in new equipment and furnishings and will occupy the 11th and 12th floors of the 30-story building. It has signed a 10-year lease.

McGraw said his friend, Sen. Matt Bartle of Lee’s Summit, first encouraged him to look at downtown. A meeting with Mayor Sly James helped as well:

“I never met the mayor and I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We had scheduled a half-hour meeting and ended up spending an hour. I appreciate his leadership. He’s very pro-business and wants to get jobs down here. It was an absolute delight.”

James, in a statement, said the feeling was mutual.

“Matt expressed to me that the downtown location they have now selected would be a great tool in recruiting the talented high-tech employees that are the lifeblood of a company like DSI,” James said.

“He wanted his employees to be in the center of it all.… It is my pleasure to welcome DSI and its employees to their new home in the heart of the city.”

David Kerr, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said in a statement that DSI would be helped by incentives from the Missouri Quality Jobs program and sales tax exemptions.

It may be one of Kerr’s final economic development announcements. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday that Kerr would be leaving his position at the end of the year.

A release said Kerr would continue to work for Nixon’s administration as an unpaid consultant helping with the implementation of the Missouri Initiative for Economic Growth.

Regarding the DSI move, Kerr said: “Attracting high-paying jobs to the state is a priority, and having DSI relocate its high-tech workforce is just the sort of employer Missouri is trying to attract with these incentives.”

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