Financial Literacy and Career Readiness Come to Life in Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City’s New Facility
“After spending the day with us, the students say things like, ‘this is the best field trip we’ve ever had’ and ‘that was the coolest experience,’” remarks Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City (JAKC) President & CEO Megan Sturges Stanfield. “I anticipated a positive response after we opened our new space, but it has far exceeded anything I imagined. People are just wowed.”
And for good reason.
In its new facility in Kansas City, Kansas, JAKC has 21,819 square feet of freshly renovated space that is purpose-built to bring financial decision making, an entrepreneurial mindset, and career readiness to life for children. IFF’s real estate team supported the project both prior to and throughout the strained pandemic months, when construction continued on pace for the facility to open in June 2021.
Previously, JAKC ran its programming out of various classrooms around the Kansas City metro area, while its staff worked out of a 3,000-square-foot office space. Now, all offices and programming are offered under one roof at a highly visible, centrally located facility. The move represents an enormous leap forward for the organization that will enable it to double the number of students it serves annually in the next five years, engage volunteers and donors in dynamic new ways, host community events, and serve as an anchor for additional investments in the neighborhood.
Supporting kids’ development today to create the Kansas City of tomorrow
For JAKC, which was founded in 1955 as part of the Junior Achievement Worldwide network, the facility also offers a unique opportunity to provide a richer programmatic experience. Their proven model has helped tens of thousands of Kansas City students enter the workforce with skills to own their economic futures.
Central to this approach is the Youth Learning Lab, presented by the Mallouk Family Foundation, that features three distinct spaces thoughtfully designed to provide students with room to explore careers, think up big ideas, and practice crucial life skills.
That process begins in JA BizTown, presented by CommunityAmerica Credit Union, which features a mini-city with 16 storefronts that give students a chance to practice real-world responsibilities.
Before students visit JA BizTown for a daylong field trip, they spend extensive time with their classroom teacher exploring foundational economic principles, financial literacy, and career paths. By the time they arrive at JA BizTown for a culminating experience, each student has a job assignment for the day, which they’re expected to complete during two structured blocks of time. By earning a paycheck, they have the ability to become a consumer and practice making personal financial decisions. JA BizTown also supports their development as actively engaged citizens by offering opportunities to vote in an election and devote their discretionary income and time to philanthropic endeavors.
“One of the things that’s unique about BizTown is that we made a bold decision to go 100 percent local in our storefront representation, so students are immersed in a simulated city that reflects the actual communities where they live,” Sturges Stanfield says. “After spending the day in BizTown, they leave as better consumers, better producers, better leaders, and better Kansas Citians.”
Also within the Youth Learning Lab is the JA Career Center, which helps students in grades 6-9 identify an aspirational career goal and get paired with a volunteer mentor.
“We want to move students from the mindset of a six-block radius to a 60-block radius,” Sturges Stanfield explains. “The focus is expanding their knowledge and awareness of the opportunities that are available to them and helping them understand how to begin pursuing their career goal in high school.”
In JAKC’s Innovation Center, the final component of the Youth Learning Lab, middle school students can start developing the skills and entrepreneurial mindset needed to run their own business. That includes critical thinking, problem solving, pitching ideas, working as part of a collaborative team, and a variety of other competencies that can also be applied to different career paths. Like the Career Center, the Innovation Center doubles as a community meeting room open to local groups.
“When we aren’t welcoming students into the facility, we really want our spaces to be community assets,” Sturges Stanfield says. “They can serve as a home to a number of different nonprofits and neighborhood organizations by providing meeting space that’s easily accessible in the community where they’re working.”
Other highlights of JAKC’s new facility include: administrative space; accessible design features to ensure students with disabilities can benefit fully from JAKC’s programming; nods to the organization’s history, like a JAKC sign from the 1950s; and a “JAKC Business Hall of Fame” featuring portraits of the many people who serve as exemplary role models to JAKC students and have helped contribute to Kansas City’s economic and entrepreneurial success.
Navigating the real estate and construction landscape during a pandemic
The process to bring this creative facility to life required equal parts imagination and innovation. JAKC began planning for a new facility in 2018 by commissioning a facility feasibility analysis. The following year, the organization launched a capital campaign to begin raising the money necessary to lease, renovate, and operate the space for the first five years.
Around the same time, the organization began exploring financing options to help support the project, ultimately turning to frequent IFF partner Central Bank of Kansas City (CBKC) for a New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) deal. The strong relationship between IFF and CBKC provided a degree of flexibility with the loan that wouldn’t have existed otherwise, while preventing the complexities of a leasehold mortgage from impacting the viability of the project.
Because NMTCs are complicated financial tools, however, projects must meet a certain threshold to justify their use, and JAKC’s anticipated costs for the buildout of the facility were too low. So, in an unusual turn of events, the organization had to increase the size of the project to realize long-term savings associated with the use of NMTCs, ultimately closing on the deal in September 2020 with Wells Fargo as the equity investor.
“IFF was behind the scenes as we worked through the financing last fall, but played a tremendous role in helping us get to the point where the New Markets Tax Credit transaction could close,” Sturges Stanfield says. “It was an experience that no one should have to deal with solo, and IFF’s support was our saving grace.”
Similarly complicated was identifying a project team to complete the buildout of the facility. In March 2020, immediately before the pandemic began, JAKC had just begun issuing RFPs and interviewing contractors with help from IFF’s real estate team in Kansas City, which provided construction management services for the project.
In short order, the entire process was adapted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Interviews took place virtually, a walk-through of the facility was captured on video for those bidding on the project, blueprints and other background documents were posted online, and a PPE station was set up at the entrance to the facility. Despite the unexpected challenges, construction was able to begin in October 2020 with JE Dunn serving as the general contractor.
“In a global pandemic, when the world was literally shutting down, we were able to keep moving forward while continuing to find new ways to ensure that as many of our dollars as possible were going into elements of the project that support our mission,” Sturges Stanfield adds. “Now we’re in a position to welcome people to be a part of our work in a way we weren’t able to before, provide in-depth experiences to more students each year in a location that provides more equitable access to our programming, and help contribute to an up-and-coming part of the city by attracting visitors from all over the metro area.”