The last time Harvard-trained analyst James Chung laid out how the Wichita economy has deteriorated, he upset some business people, according to Wichita entrepreneur Jonathan George.
George was one of those upset – at first.
“His visit was polarizing – which was what it needed to be,” George said. “They thought he was wrong, but then they looked at his numbers – and he was right.”
Chung, who grew up in Wichita, spent seven months analyzing the Wichita economy last year for the Wichita Community Foundation. He made a case for economic change in September. He is coming back this week to present more data about the state of Wichita’s economy. He and local business people will offer more proposals for solutions.
Part of what Chung will offer: more assessment in which he compares Wichita to other cities and what works and does not work in fostering growth.
I am sensing that Wichita is attacking the challenges smarter and more aggressively.
James Chung, economic analyst
“The good news is, as we understand cities like Wichita, I am sensing that Wichita is attacking the challenges smarter and more aggressively,” Chung said. “I think Wichita might be the next city to break out of that box.”
He will talk and take part in public discussions about the Wichita economy. There will be three two-hour panel discussions starting at 1 and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday and at 8 a.m. on Thursday at Abode Venue, 1330 E. Douglas.
George, at first a Chung critic last year, will serve on the three panels with Chung.
Chung’s visit last year was an economic diagnosis, George said. This visit, with George and other business leaders taking part, will be more of “a call to action” and a gathering intent on proposing solutions to grow Wichita’s economy, he said.
Other panelists are Sherry Utash, president of the Wichita Area Technical College; Britten Kuckelman, a leader in Open Wichita, a civic hacking and open data initiative; and Wayne Chambers, president and CEO of High Touch Technologies.
Chung himself said on Friday that his talks last year upset some people. “Some of them, they were not too thrilled about it.”
But people listened and rallied. Things have improved in the hometown he loves. “I feel like Wichita is pulling together, not only working harder but smarter,” in building a better entrepreneurial ecosystem for new businesses.
Part of what irritated George at first: He is a Wichitan with a track record of creating businesses. And he knew of others who create success here and who were collaborating to try turn things around.
But he concluded, after looking hard at Chung’s data, that he and others in Wichita needed to use that data to think differently about how to grow the economy, George said.
“We began talking about ideas instead of staying within our own little kingdoms,” he said. “I wish all of this would have happened starting six years ago.”
Chung reported last year that Wichita was suffering from a three-decades-long economic decline. Income levels were dropping. The percentage of residents with college degrees was dropping. Between 2011 and 2013, Chung reported, 5,400 households, averaging $70,800 in annual income, had moved away.
There was much more, most of it bleak in nature. Chung said that if the trends didn’t turn around, Wichita would go into an economic death spiral.
The Wichita Community Foundation sponsored Chung’s work in hopes of starting a grass-roots movement to address Wichita’s problems and future, said foundation president and CEO Shelly Prichard.
The foundation did not want to bring back Chung merely for another round of data explanation, Prichard said.
“He does have new data to present, but we wanted to bring in additional and local context and stories,” she said. Hence the panel.
Chung will talk for a few minutes at each panel discussion, followed by short presentations by the four panelists about their own business successes and ideas, followed by questions from the audience, Prichard said.
Regarding the local economy: Things are better since Chung last visited.
Cargill opted to stay. More companies are looking to expand than to cut. The economy has added 3,700 jobs since last summer, which is a 1.2 percent bump – not great, but not nothing.
However, the local economy still remains below its 2007-08 peak. Employment was at 300,500 in May, one of the best months in seven years, but below the 313,000 jobs in July 2008.
Wichita has always been slow to rebound, lagging the national economy by one or two years because of the built-in delays in the aircraft manufacturing cycle.
Discussion on economy
What: Presentation by James Chung, an economic analyst, followed by a panel discussion on Wichita’s future
When: 1 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday
Where: Abode Venue, 1330 E. Douglas
How much: Free and open to the public