The Wichita Community Foundation is wisely undertaking a long-term study to spur economic growth in Wichita and change the trajectory of our city. Wichita’s growth has remained stagnant for the last 10 years and this thorough, data-driven project, entitled Focus Forward, is remarkable in both its scope and promise.
Wichita native, James Chung has already identified the four key challenges facing the Wichita metro-area: Perception, Human Capital, Entrepreneurial, and Business cycle. The latest presentation/conversation added two key accelerators for our growth:
1. capturing capital for development and keeping the resulting profits in Wichita.
2. stopping the drain of our young, bright workforce and upping our game in terms of training, recruitment and development
The bad news:
One third of our residents are interested in relocating. This is true across every age level. Worse, the majority relocate during their peak earning years, taking their earnings and expertise with them. Because of this talent drain, the labor force is not growing at the same rate as job growth.
Simply put, Wichita’s economic progress is accellerating, but public perception is not.
The unanswered question is who is to blame? Wichita is full of energetic and enthusiastic small business owners, creatives, students, adventurous individuals pursuing a second/third career, and the newly retired with time to pursue new interests. My neighborhood is full of them. The problem doesn’t lie in our neighborhoods.
City and many county leaders are positive and work hard to effect positive growth, both in the public eye and in private. Our mayor, city council, Police Chief, Superintendent of Schools and urban State Legislators are astounding.
However, there are a significant number of individuals who seek to tear down what Wichita is cooperatively building. It is obvious in the tussle over the zoo (both funding and board membership), our struggling health care industry, the targeting of public schools. Bigotted rants about terrorism are not only childish, they defame innocent citizens. We are allowing community assets to slide, rather than investing in upkeep. Their faulty charts and graphs intentionally mislead to further their agenda. Funding is refused—federal funds to feed children, for pre-school education and provide healthcare for the uninsured, even though the return on that investment is quantifiable. There are politicians placing an agenda above what is good for our city, increasing inequity and leaving the next generation with the heavy burden of repairing the damage.
There is enough for all. It is unconcionable that anyone is hungry. Or without health care. Or under-educated. We have no excuse. Want to attract business? Invest in a city that all of us are proud to call home.
City growth will mean more people to pay our bills. It spreads the fixed cost over a larger group of people, decreasing the contribution of each citizen. A rising tide surely lifts all boats. But this must start with an equitable tax system. Our current tax system inequitably burdens the middle class and the poor. With that first step we can focus on prosperity rather than continually trying to dig ourselves out of a hole.
Want to “right” our story? Start by electing officials that are not stiffling our growth. Do your research. Vote. It is time to make a fresh start.