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Wichita leaders tell us what they’d get Wichita for Christmas

  • Published Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, at 7:09 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, at 9:52 a.m.

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So, you’re working your way through your Christmas list when a pesky reporter throws you a wacky question: What would you get Wichita?

That’s right, the city. What would you get it for Christmas? Let’s pretend that Santa will take care of providing peace on Earth, good will toward all men and women and prosperity and happiness through the new year.

With those marked off the list, The Eagle Business Team asked a sampling of area business leaders and public officials what they – if they had the power to do so – would deliver to Wichita for Christmas.

Here’s a look at what those civic and business leaders would put under the community’s metaphoric tree.

Julie Doll

Retail wishes

Name: April Reed

Title: Slawson Cos. commercial real estate broker

Reed is in a unique position in that she knows what Wichitans wish for.

“Wichita is very open when they want something,” Reed said. “They’ll tell you what they want.”

Among the stores Reed regularly hears that Wichitans would like to have – and she, of course, wishes she could bring them – are Costco, Macy’s, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Dave & Buster’s, H&M, DSW and Charming Charlie.

“These are the stores that people are talking about,” Reed said. “The buzz in the market.”

Even landing one big one could help, she said.

“Certain businesses like Costco, for sure, they are a goliath of retail, and wherever they go … certain retailers will follow,” Reed said.

Costco has yet to confirm it, but it looks like the store will be coming to the northeast corner of Kellogg and Webb in the next year or two.

“Other people are going to be attracted to that,” Reed said.

She has her own retail picks that would make her happy and that she thinks Wichitans would love, too. They’re Lululemon and Athleta.

Lululemon has apparel for runners and people who do yoga.

“They’ve, like, thought of everything in the detail of their clothing,” Reed said of having such things as zippered pockets for gear.

Athleta “has that same level … of detail, and, of course, it’s cute stuff,” Reed said. “But Athleta kind of goes a step beyond with their merchandise. … They also would have things that would support somebody who has that lifestyle. On the go, but cute and fashionable. Functionable.”

Carrie Rengers

Take a fresh look

Name: Larry Lawson

Title: President and CEO of Spirit AeroSystems

Lawson moved to Wichita from Texas to take over as president and CEO of Spirit AeroSystems in April. He’s been impressed with the city.

“My wish for Wichita is to see itself through a fresh lens. I’m new to the city and am so impressed with the friendliness and vibrancy of this community. I wish every Wichitan could see what a treasure we have here and take pride in being a part of it.”

Molly McMillin

A holiday meal

Name: Carl Brewer

Title: Mayor of Wichita

Brewer would make sure every Wichitan has a meal for Christmas.

“During the holiday season, that’s when we see a lot of issues, (such as) additional stress,” Brewer said. “Families may only have one income. They’re struggling, so maybe they can’t provide for the children.”

Stress also increases crime and domestic violence, and Brewer would like to eliminate that.

For some of the city’s children, seniors and the homeless, “while everyone else is enjoying Christmas and Christmas dinner, they’re doing without,” Brewer said.

It’s amazing how important a simple meal is for them. Brewer knows that firsthand.

One of six children, he grew up poor. His mother was on state assistance. She was a hairdresser but didn’t have work all of the time.

“You’d be amazed at the number of Christmases that we went without anything,” Brewer said. “I know the importance ... of eating something that maybe your friends may be eating – something that’s connected to the holiday season. That’s important.”

Molly McMillin

Go for the win

Name: Wayne Chambers

Title: CEO of High Touch

Earlier this year, Chambers and High Touch, a Wichita-based technology firm, made news with a plan to buy the 10-story building the company occupies downtown at 110 S. Main.

Chambers also is getting ready to lead the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce as its 2014 chairman.

He said he has two Christmas wishes for Wichita, one a little more lighthearted than the other.

“The fun and exciting thing would be to see the Wichita State basketball team make another deep run into the (NCAA) tournament,” he said. Chambers feels that when the team made the Final Four, “it was just kind of a badge of honor” and “everybody wore that badge and got a lot of civic, community pride.”

On a more serious note, he said, he would like to see the city receive an economic development boost, such as a major corporation relocating its headquarters or a large manufacturing plant coming to Wichita or the city winning Boeing’s 777X work, “where we could create a thousand or 1,500 jobs, get our swagger back. Something where the community comes together and gets something like that. We need a win. We need a win of some magnitude. I don’t know about you, but I would take it in any form.”

Jerry Siebenmark

Valued projects

Name: Tom Page

Title: President of Emprise Bank

Like most bankers, Page doesn’t care for too much risk and is not overly fond of financing things with public dollars that don’t pay for themselves.

But, Page said, sometimes there is a lot of value in a public facility or project that can’t pay for itself without some taxpayer support, such as libraries, museums and other attractions. Those things add to a city’s quality of life and are a consideration for businesses that operate in or are considering expanding or relocating to a given community.

Cost should not be the only consideration when a community is deciding on a project or facility that likely won’t be able to sustain itself without some public financial support, he said.

“The cheapest is almost never the best value,” Page said. “My wish would be that our community considers the value of things as well as the cost.”

Jerry Siebenmark

The return of Boeing

Name: Jim Skelton

Title: Sedgwick County Commission chairman

Skelton has no problem wishing for big things for Wichita instead of himself.

“I’m getting married,” he said (he is engaged to Stacy Luke). “I’ve already got what I wish for.”

Skelton is particularly focused on Boeing, which is heading out of Wichita after decades of being here.

“I want Boeing to come back here and build the 777,” he said. “That’s my Christmas wish for Wichita.”

In his role with Sedgwick County, Skelton said, “The county is an organization that is based largely upon community health, so I want Wichita to have a healthy new year.”

Carrie Rengers

Business, education partnership

Name: John Bardo

Title: Wichita State University president

Bardo’s wishes for the city understandably are tied to education in general and his school in particular.

He said he’d like “continued cooperation between the business and education communities to promote the quality of life and economic prospects of the metro area.”

Bardo also wants to see the “development of the technology park capacities at WSU to help diversify the economic base of the city.”

He’d also like “to continue to seek ways to ensure that all people of the area have opportunities to support their families and to take active part in creating a bright future for the metropolitan region.”

Carrie Rengers

Appreciation for the city

Name: Cathy Erickson

Title: Vice president for Laham Development.

Working with Laham Development, which has developments such as Bradley Fair and Plazzio, Erickson knows how much Wichita has to offer.

She wants others to know how great the city is, too.

“My wish for Wichita is that our residents will continue to appreciate what a special place this city is and that they will contribute their ideas and their energy and their talents to enhance the lifestyle of everyone in Wichita,” she said. “I just think it’s important for people to continue to realize that this is a great place to live.”

Carrie Rengers

Vision for the future

Name: Lon Smith

Title: Executive director of the Kansas Aviation Museum

Wichita needs a unified progressive vision for the city’s potential and what Wichita could be, Smith said.

If it were in his power to do so, Smith would give the city that vision and the enthusiasm to get behind it.

Some people have a strong vision of what Wichita can be.

“But there’s a large number of people who can’t seem to get behind a vision beyond where we are now,” Smith said.

Take Wichita’s downtown area.

When compared to cities of similar size, “we have a long way to go,” Smith said. “At many turns, there’s just strong opposition to things that are probably pretty good for the community.”

For example, there were a lot of negative comments about incentives for the Ambassador hotel and about the hotel in general. But those kinds of projects create jobs, improve quality of life and spur future development.

That’s been proven, Smith said. “Over time when you do those things, eventually they’ve been shown to have a positive impact on communities.”

That includes a recognition of the Kansas Aviation Museum.

“We need to get behind it,” Smith said.

Molly McMillin

Aviation, jobs revival

Name: Frank Molina

Title: President and directing business representative of the Machinists Union District 70

Molina has seen Wichita weather the recession, which meant a big reduction in the general aviation market and deep layoffs.

“One thing I’d like to see is our town to wake back up again with jobs and employment,” Molina said. “The one thing I know is when the aircraft companies are up, so is everybody else in Wichita.”

He’d give Wichita a booming aviation market and a big backlog of orders for planes.

“I know we’re the best at building aircraft in Wichita,” Molina said. “I’m hoping we get back to building a lot of aircraft.”

That will give Wichitans the peace of mind to be able to buy houses and cars and to make a decent living.

He’d also give Wichita some way for everyone to make a fair and decent wage.

Molly McMillin

Perfect season for farmers

Name: Zach Simon

Title: Agriculture and natural resources extension agent for Sedgwick County

Given the roller-coaster ride that farmers go through every year, Simon wishes for an ideal year for local crop farmers.

“I’d wish for a perfect growing season for crops and high commodity prices when it’s time to sell,” he said.

Dan Voorhis

End to poverty

Name: Steve Coen

Title: President and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation

Coen said his wish would be that every Wichitan would have the chance to live well.

“No child would live in poverty and would have a caring adult in their life,” he said. “Every person would lead a healthy, active life, because they would have access to fresh, affordable food and safe places to bike, run and play. Children would not be bombarded with junk food and cigarette marketing, and adult smokers who want to quit would be given the support they need to end their deadly addiction to tobacco.”

Kelsey Ryan

Developing small businesses

Name: Tim Witsman

Title: President of the Wichita Independent Business Association

Witsman’s wish for Wichita is increasing the focus of economic development efforts on local companies in the 50- to 500-employee range. These companies account for the vast majority of new jobs, he said, while big companies tend to cut their employment.

“They’re not as prone to move and tend to be home-grown, so they have a little more attachment to a community than big companies,” he said. “So for things like the arts, the large companies are no longer locally owned, so there is less investment, less ownership. Whereas the local folks tend to feel that those kinds of investments are important.”

He also said he would keep Kansas’ infrastructure and education/training at a high level in the face of budget cuts. He’s seen a lot of state rankings for economic competitiveness, and Kansas consistently ranks high for its quality of workforce and its highways and other infrastructure.

“If that’s what we’re getting high marks for,” he said, “for goodness’ sakes, don’t screw it up.”

Dan Voorhis

Visionary gift

Name: Susan Wagle

Title: President of the Kansas Senate

Wagle would like to see Wichita quickly develop and inspire another generation of successful visionaries – entrepreneurs following in the footsteps and tradition of Koch Industries, Rent-A-Center, Pizza Hut, Coleman, Beech and Cessna.

“These leaders, and many others who have brought economic prosperity and high-paying jobs to our community, dazzle, sparkle and inspire the creative whims of those around them,” she said. “The dreams, ingenuity, confidence, optimism, creativity and hope of one leader can invigorate and motivate an entire community to greater heights of success, greater personal and community wealth, and ultimately cultivates new offices, homes, roads, restaurants, service businesses and schools to serve their community. Wichita needs another growth spurt, and growth evolves from visionary business leaders.”

Kelsey Ryan

Patience and progress

Name: Jon Rosell

Title: Executive director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County

Rosell said he has two gifts he would give to Wichita.

The first is a healthy dose of patience as the country, state and community wrestle through the seismic changes in health care. “Let’s all take a deep breath and keep our focus on the patients – we’ll get through this,” he said.

He would also give Wichitans a renewed sense of engagement in making the community the best it can be.

“In areas where we agree – let’s get things done,” he said. “In areas where we disagree – let’s take the time to listen, learn and then work for some progress. Shouting ‘no’ to any type of change isn’t getting the job done.”

Kelsey Ryan

Focus on downtown

Name: Jeff Fluhr

Title: President of Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

As head of the agency working to further develop downtown, Fluhr has many wishes for the city, most of them in the core area.

His Christmas wish list includes Intrust Bank Arena hosting an NCAA tournament in which the Wichita State men’s basketball team is playing.

He’d also love to see a destination grocer such as Trader Joe’s announce that it is coming downtown.

But Fluhr’s two biggest wishes are the announcement of an “iconic Class A building” to be constructed downtown that would include new jobs, business expansion and alter the city’s skyline.

High, too, on Fluhr’s list would be the start of “construction on a world-class, riverfront convention and performing arts district.” But what among those wishes would be the priority? Probably a new office building downtown, he admits. “If you continue to build the business component downtown, that will lead to new and even greater opportunities,” Fluhr said.

Jerry Siebenmark

Oil, gas industry benefits

Name: Ed Cross

Title: President of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association

Cross wishes for Wichita a federal government that understands and appreciates small oil and gas producers such as the ones that make up the local industry. He particularly wishes that, during any major tax reform bill being considered in 2014, politicians don’t curtail a series of longtime tax provisions that benefit small oil and gas producers. Those are wishes he has made known to oil state congressmen and senators for years.

“When they look at the tax provisions that reduce the amount of capital available to the smallest producers, that greatly affects them,” he said. “The oil or gas they get out of the well head is where they get the capital for the next well.”

Dan Voorhis

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