About 26,000 people work downtown during the day, according to data cited by numerous city leaders and publicity materials for at least several years.
It may look like 7,000 of those workers have moved elsewhere when the census data for 2017 is eventually released. But the reason for this is not because 7,000 workers actually will leave but because of a likely mistake in how the number of jobs downtown is calculated.
It’s possible that the real number of people who work in the downtown ZIP code has been closer to 19,000 the past few years.
Right now the Census estimates that more than 7,000 educators work downtown, where the Wichita school district has its administrative center. But another estimate, from Reference USA, which uses a different methodology, says there are fewer than 500 education employees downtown, according to Jeremy Hill, director of the W. Frank Barton School of Business Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.
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One of the most likely reasons for the difference, according to multiple local academics, including Hill, is that the Census is reporting that every employee for USD 259 works downtown. Most USD 259 employees work in buildings across the city, but the central office is located downtown.
“It looks very obvious and plausible that it is an error,” Hill said. “But (the Census employees) wouldn’t go into more detail.”
Hill said he thinks Wichita should start reaching out to all of the education institutions downtown to get a more accurate picture of how many educators actually drive into ZIP code 67202 to work.
USD 259 is planning on moving its headquarters this year to the old Southeast High School. When that happens, the Census could suddenly report 7,000 fewer jobs.
This won’t make much of a difference to most businesses downtown, according to Hill. They already know how big the market is because they have experience with it.
“So is Larkspur going to change anything from the change in an estimate?” Hill said. “There is no way there is going to change anything. They already know their market.”
The best companies will look at census data when coming up with their business plans, Hill said, but every business relies on several numbers, so even if there are thousands of fewer jobs downtown than previously thought, it’s unlikely that it would have much of an impact.
But there will probably never be a perfect piece of data, Hill said. Right now there are many businesses that most people would consider downtown, he said, but which aren’t located in the 67202 ZIP code. But the census data is reported by ZIP code, and that’s the most precise information out there, he said.
But because the mistake is so large, Hill thinks it’s worth trying to supplement the Census with better information. “There is a concern in this data, and in this case it could be large, so let’s go back and determine if it’s right, let’s look at this one sector and see how off it could be for downtown,” he said.
Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, said he will be meeting with Hill to talk about how to communicate downtown job data for an upcoming annual report. The corporation has used Hill’s data in its past annual reports, on its website and in interviews with media.