Wayne Chambers: Time to act is now to ‘change the game’ for Wichita

03/01/2014 11:35 AM

03/02/2014 8:03 AM

During the last couple of years, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and other community groups have taken a hard look at how Wichita, Sedgwick County and the surrounding metro area measures up competitively against other cities and metro areas.

The question is whether Wichita and south-central Kansas are able to attract, retain and grow primary jobs compared to other areas, and the answer is not good.

The data indicate other areas of the country are rebounding from the 2008 recession much more quickly than the Wichita region. Additionally, local surveys document our communities’ strong desire to create jobs and rejuvenate the economy to the point of it becoming a top priority. We are all feeling the effects, and it does not feel good.

It is time to do something different, to become competitive and to regain our position as a leader in the creation of jobs and economic vitality. It is time to get serious about addressing our competitive needs, overcome known obstacles and focus on our strengths: good, hardworking folks with coveted Midwestern values; a strong educational system; great public-private partnerships; and a rich heritage of entrepreneurial spirit.

Wichita, let’s change the game.

Let me suggest a combination of things that can change the game for our region:

Tool box full of tools

Our central location and our skilled labor force are key selling points when we are working with companies to relocate to the Wichita area or retaining and growing the workforce of companies already in the area. Both are important.

When competing for jobs, we are often told that we don’t quite “measure up” in terms of having the needed sites, buildings or infrastructure ready to accommodate a company wanting to relocate a large project or plant to Wichita. We can fix that with ready, attractive real estate options.

Another challenge routinely brought to our attention is that our job growth incentives don’t compare favorably with those of other communities that we compete against. A financial incentive for companies to create jobs is, unfortunately, prevalent in the competitive environment and something we need to deal with in a proactive way. The bottom line is that we need an attractive incentive program to be competitive for attracting and retaining primary jobs. We must decide if we are willing to improve our resource tool box to be more competitive for job growth. My concern is if we don’t become more proactive in investing in ourselves, we will lose out on opportunities that come our way.

Support for entrepreneurial efforts

The Wichita area has a history of active entrepreneurial efforts that have created several decades of economic growth and prosperity. Supporting our local entrepreneurs will enhance efforts to diversify the economy, create jobs and attract other entrepreneurs, which will diversify the economy, create jobs – you get the picture.

The chamber is supporting local entrepreneurial efforts through the Leadership Council and the Technology Alliance. Some of the suggestions put forth so far are to identify, engage and advocate for entrepreneurial organizations, businesses and individuals. Studies are being done by a Leadership Council subcommittee to leverage much-needed public and private financial resources to support entrepreneurial efforts.

A unified voice

It is extremely important for the community to be aligned and focused on creating and winning jobs. One goal, one message, one voice – all aligned and unified for one reason – changing the game and winning jobs.

At the chamber’s annual meeting last November, Jim Clifton passionately delivered the same message when he discussed excerpts from his book “The Coming Jobs War.” Business leaders, educators, elected officials, entrepreneurs and leaders throughout the community should all be articulating the same message: “We’re open for business.”

The chamber, its partner organizations and affiliates have been building the tool box to improve the area’s competitiveness for jobs. We are staged and ready for the next phase of growth. The game changers have been defined, and it is entirely up to us to actually “change the game.”

The global economy has dramatically increased the competition, and the stakes are higher than ever. We have listened to the community voices, and the options have been examined and vetted. It is time to act.

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