The reorganized effort to develop Wichita’s economy calls for praise and optimism, not only because it looks promising and has a proven go-getter in charge but because failure is not an option.
Neither, judging from recent decisions at Sedgwick County, is an economic development strategy that relies on local government for leadership.
So it’s significant, and smart, that the impetus for the new Greater Wichita Partnership is coming from the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and its Leadership Council, whose co-chairmen, Intrust Bank CEO Charlie Chandler and former Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner, announced the changes Friday.
Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., steps up to head the partnership, which will oversee WDDC and also the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. GWEDC president Tim Chase bows out.
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Two initiatives of the Leadership Council, the Entrepreneurship Task Force and Business and Education Alliance, also will be at the forefront.
The relentlessly can-do Fluhr should be an asset if he can expand his enthusiasm and collaborative skills to include not only all of Wichita but the region. His strong resume at this point is downtown itself, which is undergoing a steady reinvention as a residential, commercial and nightlife hub.
Fluhr also has experience with the local ideology that disfavors any use of tax dollars or government tools to advance the economy – the prevailing thinking at Sedgwick County since January and a factor in last fall’s crushing electoral defeat of a citywide sales tax that would have helped fund business recruitment and expansion.
The many moving pieces working on Wichita’s economic future also include the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth, Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus and the export growth plan.
Support from Mayor Jeff Longwell and other elected officials will be essential. As chamber chairman Jon Rosell said of the new effort: “We know that it takes the work of everyone to grow a community and everyone rowing in the same direction.”
More motivation for all involved came Friday: news that the Wichita-area workforce continues to shrink.
Not only were 500 fewer people employed or looking for work in March than in February, but nearly 23,000 have disappeared from the area workforce since 2009. That fall-off coincided with the downturn’s devastating blow to aviation manufacturing and Wichita’s stature as Air Capital of the World.
The pressure is on for the Greater Wichita Partnership to turn that trend around, and ensure that Wichita remains not only the state’s largest city but a prime economic mover.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman