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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wichita should heed author’s warning on jobs war


In “The Coming Jobs War,” author Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup, talks about the threat of the United States losing an economic war with China and other global economic powers.

He cites trends that point to America’s pending economic decline, including a troubled educational system, healthcare costs, the loss of jobs and China’s surge. How will we turn these trends around?

Clifton suggests, and I agree, that the key is the combination of big cities, great universities and powerful local leaders. To directly quote the author: “So goes the leadership of the top American cities, so goes the country’s economic future.”

In many respects, Wichita – like many cities, and like the nation itself – is at a crossroads.

We are the Air Capital of the World. Yet having that status puts Wichita in the cross-hairs of other cities, states and countries that would like to steal what makes us strong.

We will bounce back from the recent announcement by Boeing, but it should serve as a wake-up call to this community that we can’t and shouldn’t take our aviation cluster for granted.

Our battle is not local. We aren’t competing with El Dorado, Newton or Hutchinson. We’re really competing with Omaha, Des Moines, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Seattle and other metro areas. Quite frankly, it’s Wichita against the world.

We’re all members of the Wichita family – we need to stick together or we’re going to lose the jobs war.

In order to prepare our organization and this community to do battle, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commercehas adopted a new vision for economic development. Our vision is to be in the top 25 percent of all Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the country for economic performance.

Wichita ranks as the 84th-largest MSA in population out of 366 in the country. If we rank in the top 25 percent in population, we should at least be ranked in the top 25 percent for economic performance.

However, different national sources rank Wichita from 104 to 204 out of the 366 MSAs in economic performance. We need to analyze the criteria that drive those rankings and identify how we can move the needle.

Economic performance drives population. If we want to continue to grow, we need a generational strategy to improve our economic outlook.

First and foremost, that new strategy will incorporate a new way to engage leadership in order to move this city, county and region in a positive direction. It’s imperative that we break down silos and have all the impact players in the community pulling in the same direction.

Wichita needs to convene community leadership differently to reach our full potential. That means not only business leaders and local government leaders. It also needs to include labor, education, churches, nonprofits and other important community sectors.

When it comes to a unified vision, the chamber will lead by example. We will align all chamber resources toward achieving our economic vision.

A newly formed Leadership Council, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Young Professionals of Wichita, Visioneering and Chamber divisions devoted to public policy and business services will all share this vision and align their priorities for job creation.

The Leadership Council will consist of the top private and public sector leaders in the region. Patterned after successful models in Pittsburgh, Denver, Atlanta, St. Louis and other metros, the Leadership Council will convene four to six times a year to address transformational issues for the region, such as product development or economic development.

The key is for the Leadership Council to define a community agenda that focuses on a short list of crucial issues where we do agree, rather than a multitude of areas where we may disagree. And at the top of that short list should be jobs.

The time has come for Wichita to declare a war for jobs. As Clifton says, “The jobs war is what should get city leaders up in the morning, what they should work on all day and what should keep them from getting to sleep at night.”

It’s us against them.

Gary Plummer is president and CEO of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at 316-265-7771 or gplummer@wichitachamber.org.

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