At Farnborough, Wichita promotes its skilled labor force (VIDEOS)

07/17/2014 4:38 PM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Wichita’s economic development officials have long touted the area’s skilled labor force when it works to recruit jobs to the area.

But other cities, regions and states also claim skilled workers as an asset, said Tim Chase, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition president, who was at the GWEDC’s exhibit at the Farnborough International Airshow this week.

“In all cases, if you start talking to these folks, the materials they have is, ‘We have the best workforce. Come see us. Move your plant here,’ ” said Chase.

So the GWEDC set out to find out how Wichita’s workforce stacks up.

It started with data from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy group in Washington, D.C. Brookings had evaluated the STEM (science, technology engineering and math) economy in the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

The GWEDC used the data, along with information from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, to compare workforces of the 10 manufacturing metros in the U.S.

All but one metro area ranked between 1 and 4 in at least one metric measured by the GWEDC. But Wichita was the only metro area to rank in the top four in all 10 metrics, GWEDC officials said.

Wichita was compared with Seattle; Palm City/Melbourne, Fla.; Tulsa; North Charleston, S.C.; Greensboro and High Point, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Phoenix/Mesa, Ariz.; Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Los Angeles/Long Beach, Calif. The cities in the study were chosen because all have significant aviation sectors, according to the GWEDC.

Metrics included such categories as the number of engineers per 1,000 jobs, production workers per 1,000 jobs, maintenance/repair workers per 1,000 jobs, number of STEM jobs, number of STEM jobs requiring a two-year degree or less, and lowest average wages for STEM jobs.

Having a skilled workforce is critical for a company that wants to relocate or expand in the area, Chase said.

“Labor is the most expensive piece,” he said. “It’s not just bodies, it’s talent. We went out to prove our talent is the best in the marketplace. We proved we’re No. 1.”

A second study was completed in July by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.

That study looked at the knowledge and skills needed for a specific job. For example, an aerospace engineer possesses skills in critical thinking, mathematics, complex problem solving and operational analysis.

So rather than just focus on aerospace engineering positions, the city could try to anticipate what new kinds of jobs would need that skill set.

“Those are new terms that we haven’t used before to define our workforce,” Chase said.

The names of the occupations that will be needed in the future may not have been invented yet, Chase said.

“But the skills and knowledge are in the workforce today,” he said.

The studies come as competition for Wichita jobs is strong – as evidenced by the numerous cities, regions, states and countries with displays at Farnborough.

Near the Kansas booth at the show, exhibits by Oklahoma, North Carolina, Arkansas, Mexico, Canada, South Carolina, Alabama and Illinois are a quick walk away.

They, and others, are trying to attract aviation-related businesses to their area.

“And we want to have it in Kansas and Wichita,” Chase said. “We still have a stronger aviation cluster in Wichita than any of the states that I’m aware of, with the exception of Washington state,” which has Boeing.

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