Leaders of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition said they fell short of their jobs goal last year – citing, in part, a lack of suitable industrial sites.
At the coalition’s annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Wichita, interim President Suzie Ahlstrand reported that the coalition coordinated 10 deals that created or saved 872 jobs in 2012.
The coalition’s annual goal is 1,500 jobs.
Ahlstrand and board coalition Chairman Steve Sharp took the opportunity to hammer on the message that the community has to get more serious about economic development.
“We were able to close 10 projects,” Ahlstrand said. “The reason we couldn’t get more is that we just couldn’t compete.”
There is plenty of activity out there, they said. Coalition staff members worked on 70 potential deals during the year, the most ever, but Ahlstrand and Sharp said they continue to be hindered by the lack of large construction-ready, attractively placed industrial sites, as well as a deal-closing fund.
Last year, they said, the coalition was asked to submit proposals on two projects seeking sites of 300 to 500 acres with runway access. Each of the projects would have created more than 1,000 jobs, they said.
“They were juicy,” Ahlstrand said.
But, Sharp said, the companies needed sites available within 30 days. Staff members had to assemble sites from several property owners and work out necessary zoning and permits, and they couldn’t get it done quickly enough.
“Up that point, we hadn’t had a request for it,” Sharp said.
There is no guarantee the coalition would have landed the companies if the sites had been available, but at least the city would have been in the running, they said.
That is changing, Sharp said. The coalition is working to assemble such sites in advance and get them validated by a third-party group, but that process is time-consuming and expensive.
Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce leaders have spent a year challenging the private sector and the community to better support economic development.
As part of the effort, the private sector increased its contribution to the coalition and funded a second group called the Leadership Council. The Leadership Council is assigned to come up with ways to help the community compete economically.
The Wichita City Council has also put in place incentives to encourage the construction of speculative industrial buildings. Only one sizable project – a 90,000-square-foot building on South West Street – has been started, Sharp said.
“We’re trying to get a few more,” Sharp said.
The 2012 results include two companies new to the area and eight companies that agreed to retentions and expansions.
Recruitment of new business includes:
Retained and expanding business projects include:
The coalition said that since it was formed in 2004, it has helped to retain or create 19,017 jobs, $915.2 million in payroll and $1.42 billion in total investment in 100 projects. The goal was 18,000 jobs.