The mission of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, important at the public-private partnership’s creation nine years ago, now seems imperative. So praise is due the dozens of area companies that have committed a total $7.2 million to the “Business at Full Throttle” campaign to fund GWEDC for the next five years, toward the goal of $9 million in private money.
The city of Wichita and Sedgwick County together have contributed $600,000 a year to keeping GWEDC operating over the past five years, and will need to remain strong partners for the next five.
Failure is not an option, either for the fundraising effort or the GWEDC’s goal of retaining and recruiting businesses sufficient to land Wichita among the top 25 percent of metropolitan statistical areas nationwide based on economic performance.
The economy has changed dramatically since the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, city, county and Regional Economic Area Partnership came together on GWEDC and a strategy nearly a decade ago, when a private fundraising goal of $2.5 million seemed ambitious. This year alone brought the news that Boeing was leaving town and Hawker Beechcraft was filing bankruptcy.
Now, Wichita must wage a “war for jobs,” as chamber president Gary Plummer put it.
The GWEDC will work with nonlocal companies looking to relocate and existing companies looking to expand, toward the goals of $300 million of new capital investment and creating or retaining 6,000 primary jobs – those that make products or deliver services that bring new revenue to town and increase the capacity for wealth creation.
Just as important, a new Leadership Council, composed of top business and public-sector executives and chaired by Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner and Intrust Bank CEO Charlie Chandler, will tackle some of the bigger challenges involved in selling Wichita in a competitive global marketplace. Some issues will present themselves as GWEDC goes about its work. But others are all too familiar – including the lack of shovel-ready industrial sites, spec buildings, and competitive tax breaks and cash incentives.
Like it or not, Wichita needs far better economic development tools than it has, given that it’s competing against the likes of Oklahoma City’s $75 million deal-closer fund and Topeka’s $5 million-a-year sales tax for economic development. And on Nov. 6, Tulsa voters will decide whether to extend a sales tax that could fund, among other things, a $52 million deal-closing fund for that city.
Meanwhile, GWEDC now has gone 18 months without a permanent president, putting pressure on the chamber to find the right one as soon as possible.
The companies fueling the GWEDC’s next five years and leading the Leadership Council risk seeing some of the efforts benefit competitors within their industries. But they also understand that there is strength in numbers in the fight to win jobs and build a strong local economy – and that’s a fight Wichita must win.