For a decade local economic development leaders bemoaned that not having the right industrial park held the city back from faster development and more jobs.
The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition said that over the last two or three years it failed to make the short list for seven deals with 9,000 or 10,000 jobs at least in part because the Wichita area lacked a site large enough or with specific features.
But, they say, the community is making progress. There are more industrial parks, both private and public, in various sizes and with different attributes.
“We are much better than we were two or three years ago,” said GWEDC Chairman Steve Sharp. “We have a lot of communities providing product to potential companies.”
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There are major parks in Bel Aire, Derby, Clearwater, Newton and southwest of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, among other locations.
More quantity and variety are good, but the area still seems to lag other cities in some respects. For instance, the area doesn’t yet have a “certified site” program – in which sites are validated by third parties – nor does it have sufficient land near airport runways, and there aren’t any 1,000-acre “megasites” primed and ready to go.
So, there is still work to do: coordinating with landowners and developers, securing options and planning, Sharp said.
That will take still more time, effort and public money – all of which require political will by local leaders.
“I’m still stuck on what is the political will to proceed to attract new jobs with a passion,” said Sedgwick County Manager Bill Buchanan.
A park that promises big impact in Wichita is the newly named Sunflower Commerce Park in Bel Aire.
The city annexed and purchased more than 1,000 acres on its east side a decade ago and has been trying to develop it ever since, with limited success.
But the city developed a master plan for an 800-acre industrial park and last month sold the first 3-acre parcel of the 155-acre first phase.
City manager Ty Lasher said the park has tremendous advantages: it’s big, it has a Union Pacific rail line running through it, it’s a mile from K-254 and K-96, and touches Jabara Airport.
Sedgwick County has committed $2.8 million to pave 45th and 53rd streets between Webb and Greenwich.
Only the first phase is “shovel ready,” which means it has all of its permits and zoning, plus it has utilities and roads in place. The rest of the land, Lasher said, has received needed permits and approvals, but lacks water, sewer and roads. That could be done in six to 12 months, he said.
“Yep, we think we have the killer industrial park,” he said.
Newton had developed its own 500-acre park, the Kansas Logistics Park.
Economic developers had landed commitments from two large wind-energy related plants, Tindall and New Millennium Wind Energy, but they have delayed their plans.
Troy Carlson, a consultant for the park, said it is perfect for manufacturers that need rail service. Plus it’s far from houses, but close to Interstate 135.
But, he said, the park isn’t getting a lot of support from Wichita. The GWEDC advertises the region, but it only makes deals for Sedgwick County, he said.
Carlson said that leaders in Sedgwick County should consider a win for Newton a win for Wichita.
“It’s not a Newton, Harvey County facility,” Carlson said. “That is a regional facility that is meant to service all of south-central Kansas. We welcome others, there is plenty of room to use that facility.”
Dave Unruh, a Sedgwick County commissioner with a long history of involvement in economic development, said GWEDC will naturally look first at sites in Sedgwick County before looking at Newton.
Deb Teufel, managing director for the GWEDC, said that, based on the inquiries they get, the biggest gap in the group’s arsenal is a parcel of several hundred acres at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport or Jabara Airport.
“If we have a client who wants 300 acres on a runway, we’ll look at our inventory of land on runways and the only one is at Mid-Continent. There are 29 acres left on the southwest corner and 60 acres in the Skyway Industrial Park. If the challenge is to come up with 300 acres, we’ll have to know what adjacent landowners have. How much does John Dugan have. Are they contiguous? Do we have to close Tyler? Where are the water and sewer and electrical lines?”
Teufel added that the community needs a variety of sites for the variety of requests. So, having more parks is a good thing, but she thinks the area still needs more and better sites.
“I like to see all of our communities and developers working together for the common good,” she said.