Incentives and job creation are at the top of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s list of priorities for 2014.
Local business leaders say the city has trailed other metros areas in the region in recovering economically from the recession, and now is the time to do something about it.
“We are, for lack of a better term, in last places in terms of comparisons,” said Wayne Chambers, who took over as chamber chairman last fall. “I think it’s a good time for the community to kind of rally together. I do think there’s some urgency.”
The chamber has set a goal of helping new and existing employers bring 1,500 good jobs to the market this year.
Chambers said the city’s economic problems stem partly from being so heavily reliant on the aviation industry because the business jet sectors in which Wichita is heavily invested have been continued to struggle, even as the rest of the economy regains lost ground.
The chamber’s job creation strategies include “benchmarking” the city’s incentives for attracting jobs – a term that means comparing one’s processes and performance to industry-best practices.
“When we compare to ourselves to Omaha or Oklahoma City, we’re not as competitive as we can be,” Chambers said. “Most if not all of those markets have funds that are readily available that they can use as incentives for companies to come to their areas. It might be (for) work-force development, or physical sites. They’ve sort of got those hurdles cleared.”
Measured in terms of job creation and economic development investments over the past five years, data used by the chamber show the city lags behind most comparable cities in the Midwest and national averages.
Wichita needs a “cash war chest or funding mechanism where we can sit at the table and say, ‘Here are the things we can do for you.’”
Chambers said he doesn’t know how big that fund needs to be, but as of right now, “It appears that we don’t have enough.”
The chamber also wants to expand its services to small businesses by October 2014, and support the city’s master plan for downtown redevelopment throughout the year.
“We have always been focused on the quality of place that our community has to offer,” chamber president Gary Plummer said. “We think that’s a huge factor in economic development and in our ability to attract and retain new talent.”
The chamber will continue to support work-force and education development, he added.
“Whenever we survey out members about what their concurs are, the need to provide and maintain a skilled workforce always rises to the top,” Plummer said.
However, on the legislative side of things, the chamber wants state officials to reduce or maintain spending at current levels, and also reduce corporate income taxes, enhance tax incentives for job development and reduce regulatory burdens on businesses.