December 11, 2013

Sedgwick County to give GWEDC $300,000 a year

The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition will get $300,000 a year from Sedgwick County under a five-year agreement that county commissioners approved Wednesday.

The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition will get $300,000 a year from Sedgwick County under a five-year agreement that county commissioners approved Wednesday.

Commissioners signed off on the contract on a 4 to 1 vote. Commissioner Richard Ranzau voted against it, saying he wanted more transparency from the quasi-governmental group and a different makeup of the coalition.

He wanted to table the vote until later to allow for more discussion, and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn sided with him, but there was not majority support to put off a vote. Peterjohn then voted for the agreement.

The coalition works to maintain existing businesses and bring new companies to a nine-county area.

“We rely on the GWEDC to help us grow the local economy,” the county’s chief financial officer, Chris Chronis, told commissioners.

Chronis said the agreement with the coalition was the same as one expiring at the end of this year except it can be terminated without cause at any time during the five years and provides a set funding amount for the county. The city also is expected to pass a similar agreement before the end of the year with it also giving $300,000 annually.

Steve Sharp, chairman of the coalition and a vice president at Spirit AeroSystems, said efforts by the coalition have returned $2.39 for every $1 invested.

He said the coalition had a goal to create 19,500 jobs between 2004 and the end of this year but brought in 20,164. Those jobs had an average annual salary of $46,172, higher than the initial goal of $39,800.

Companies the coalition helped attract have spent more than $1.4 billion in capital investments, higher than the goal of $550 million, Sharp said. And the coalition has worked to diversity the area economy with 52 percent of jobs not centered on aviation, he said.

Sharp said capital investments are important because they are a “clear sign of a company committing to Wichita and staying.”

The coalition has worked hard to keep existing jobs, he said, because “losing what we already have would be very detrimental to the community.”

Ranzau said he wanted to see the Wichita Independent Business Association and the Sedgwick County Association of Cities represented on the coalition. Ranzau said the latter group could replace the Regional Economic Area Partnership on the coalition, a group he has not supported because of its role handling a sustainable communities grant.

Ranzau also pushed for more transparency by the coalition, including letting the public see its checkbook and the employment contracts issued by businesses. GWEDC President Tim Chase said the coalition has worked to be more open, and later, Commissioner Tim Norton noted that agreements with companies often contain proprietary information.

Norton also said the coalition has “stayed strong” and not been a victim of “mission creep,” meaning drifting from its intended purpose.

“It’s about getting jobs and keeping jobs,” he said. “We have a laser focus on what needs to be done in our community.”

On Monday, Barby Jobe, vice president of government relations for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, sent an e-mail to commissioners asking for their support for the coalition.

“We believe GWEDC does important work for our community in the areas of job retention, expansion and recruitment,” she said. “This public/private partnership provides a critical benefit to the community overall. The Chamber asks for your support of the contract and this vote will be included on our local scorecard.”

Jobe said in an e-mail the scorecards reflect how elected officials support the Chamber’s legislative agenda and business issues. She said the scorecards are shared with the Chamber membership.

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