Wichita City Council to consider new contract with economic development group

01/06/2014 9:09 AM

01/06/2014 8:30 PM

The Wichita City Council will consider a new five-year, $1.5 million funding contract with the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition when it meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

The contract for $300,000 annually, subject to yearly council approval, would match funding approved by the Sedgwick County Commission on Dec. 11.

Mayor Carl Brewer and council member Jeff Blubaugh on Monday praised the GWEDC’s work.

“I’m definitely in support of them,” Blubaugh said. “They’ve done a pretty good job trying to bring jobs to Wichita and grow existing businesses.”

Brewer praised the economic development group’s adaptability to change in what the mayor called an “intensely competitive” economic environment.

“Three or four times a year, the board’s asking itself some important questions: What can we do to improve? How can we do a better job? What can we do differently?” Brewer said.

He said the city and county haven’t given the GWEDC enough resources in the past to successfully wage economic development battles against neighboring states and cities.

“The big thing is, we have to find a way to provide them with a war chest – the necessary tools to compete with the cities and states that want our jobs,” Brewer said. “They don’t have the war chest our neighbors have, and we’re asking a lot of them in a very competitive environment. And on the big prospects, we have to depend on Topeka to help us compete.”

Blubaugh agreed.

“Look at the Boeing deal,” he said. “Companies aren’t afraid to pick up and move out of town, and people aren’t afraid to ask, either.”

City documents indicate that the GWEDC has produced a little more than $95 million in public benefits and has exceeded job creation and capital investment goals since its formation a decade ago.

Although the agency receives public funding, some financial information remains closed to the public; the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office has said in the past that the coalition doesn’t fall under open-records laws. Information from similar organizations that receive some public money, including Go Wichita and the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., is similarly closed.

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