GWEDC celebrates success of incentives

The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition helped keep or expand five companies in Wichita during the first half of 2010.

Those wins saved or will add 268 jobs paying an average of $41,550 a year plus $21.9 million in investment.

The results were released Wednesday during a coalition lunch at the Hyatt Regency Wichita.

For every tax dollar spent on incentives or forgone in taxes, state and local governments recouped $1.43, according to an analysis by Wichita State University.

The companies are Spartech Corp., Cargill, Martin Interconnect Services, Nex-Tech Processing and Chrome Plus International.

Still, the job and investment totals were less than in the past. The group's six-month goal was 750 jobs and $37.5 million in investment, said coalition president Vicki Pratt Gerbino.

"We realize this is short of our goals, well short, and God knows we are working hard to make that up in the rest of the year, but that's not a reason to not celebrate what these companies have done," she said.

The recession has drastically slowed corporate interest in adding and expanding facilities, although there have been opportunities as well as threats from companies' plans to consolidate.

But Gerbino and other economic development advocates say Wichita also lacks some crucial elements.

A report written in April by Site Selection Group of Dallas pointed particularly to a need for large sites ready for construction and for dedicated funding.

Two luncheon speakers — Ronnie Bryant, president of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, and Tim Chase, president of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce — added their own advice.

The key question, Bryant asked, is how big does Wichita want to get?

Cities and their regions have the power to grow faster or slower, depending on how badly they want to grow.

If they want to grow, they must have strong private-sector leadership, a common desire and vision at the top, close ties with the rest of the region, a thoughtful strategy and plenty of money.

Bryant said that decades ago, Wichita and Charlotte were about the same size. Today, the Charlotte area is about 2 1/2 times as populous.

"You have to answer the question, 'How competitive do you want to be?' " Bryant asked. "Everybody wants to be competitive, but it's hard."