Debbie Gann: Wichita poised to win the ‘jobs war’

02/28/2013 4:06 PM

02/28/2013 4:06 PM

Wichita is resilient. Our community has proven that through the recent tough economic downturn and sluggish recovery.

We’ve emerged with a clearer understanding that the global economy has dramatically increased competition for keeping our existing jobs and attracting new ones. Communities around the globe are aggressively courting our businesses, hoping to lure them away so they can further develop their own aerospace, energy and technology clusters and the high-paying jobs that go along with them.

The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce shares a common goal with our public and private partners: to make Wichita and the surrounding areas the best place to work, play and raise our families. It’s up to all of us who live, work and invest here to create the community that we want. We can’t and shouldn’t depend on someone at the state or federal level to define it for us, nor should we take a passive role and let the forces of nature determine our outcome. We must develop and focus on solutions that are tailored for our community.

I believe that we are fully capable of helping grow our existing companies while also establishing Wichita as a premier community for new business growth.

We have the team

Our community understands the power of partnerships in cultivating growth opportunities. Our government, business and non-profit leaders have expressed their commitment to work together to grow our economy. We’ve proven in the past that we can partner to achieve positive economic developments.

We have the resources

The Chamber recently completed the general phase of a leadership and fundraising campaign called Business at Full Throttle. The campaign kicked off in September 2012 with a goal of raising $9 million to sustain the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition for the next five years. In just four months, 173 local investors pledged more than $9 million, exceeding the original target and propelling our efforts forward. We hope to encourage more area leaders to join us by investing their valuable time and financial resources in our community’s future.

We have the will

Another outcome of the Business at Full Throttle Campaign was the creation of a Leadership Council, a think tank made up of CEOs from the private and public sectors who are committed to capitalizing on economic development opportunities and eliminating existing barriers to growth. We now have 100 high-profile leaders meeting under the guidance of co-chairs Jeff Turner, CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, and Charlie Chandler, CEO of Intrust Bank.

As part of their commitment to accelerating economic growth, they are focusing on three priorities for 2013: Grow primary jobs; diversification through entrepreneurship; and enhance educational attainment and workforce development. Local leadership will be a huge factor in winning the jobs war, so this new council is a game changer for our community.

We have the talent

The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, managed by the Chamber, has a professional and experienced team in place. A new GWEDC president, Tim Chase, started work in February with a mandate to help accelerate our economic development efforts. Officials from the city, county and state are working closely with us to retain and attract new businesses.

Leaders of nonprofits and educational institutions have expressed their willingness to partner to ensure our community has an educated and resourceful workforce.

We have momentum

The energy in our community is building as a result of public and private investments in Wichita and the surrounding area:

• United Airlines starts nonstop flights to Los Angeles in May.
• Southwest Airlines begins offering flights to Las Vegas, Chicago and Dallas in June.
• The Kansas Leadership Center and Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center opens this summer in the core of our downtown area.
• Koch Industries expands its headquarters this fall with a groundbreaking for a 210,000-square-foot building and the addition of hundreds of new jobs.
• McConnell Air Force Base is in the running for not one, but two tanker programs.
• Construction continues on a new airport terminal building – the gateway to our city for air travelers.

Now we need to make the commitment.

In the end, it’s all about jobs. We want to retain our jobs. We want our neighbors, families and friends to find meaningful work, and we want our children to have a variety of good career choices in our community when they graduate from high school, technical college, community college or the university of their choice.

We need to take a hard look at how we stack up against our competition – other cities and states that are coming after our jobs and our industry. We must deeply understand our strengths, including our great workforce and central location. But we also must take an unflinching look at what we lack in today’s marketplace of fierce competition.

The reality of today’s global economy requires all of us to become more involved in guiding our community’s destiny. Working together, the future is ours to create.

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