Wichita vies for $1 million prize

Add Wichita to the list of cities chasing a $1 million prize for raising and retaining community talent.

The Talent Dividend Prize, a joint effort by CEOs for Cities, the Kresge Foundation and Lumina Foundation for Education, will award $1 million to the city with the largest increase in the number of post-secondary degrees granted per 1,000 of population.

The competition launches May 10 and will end in September 2014 with the announcement of the winning city. Others in the region who will compete include Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

CEOs for Cities chief executive Carol Coletta is the speaker for the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. annual lecture Thursday at the Orpheum.

The talent contest is a natural fit for a big part of Wichita's growth plan: to develop and retain more local talent, local officials said.

"There are two key benchmarks coming out of our Visioneering document," said Suzie Ahlstrand, interim president of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.

"One's about job growth and the other about per-capita income. When I saw the Talent Dividend competition, it reminds you that your goal is good, high-paying jobs. The way you get that is through your educational process."

Talent retention is a big plank in Goody Clancy's master plan for downtown redevelopment, said Jeff Fluhr, WDDC president.

"Project Downtown is about creating a city of national distinction," he said. "In the creation of such a city, education is a foundational component to our success in retaining and recruiting the talent our businesses need."

That educational component should not be limited to community and four-year colleges, Ahlstrand said.

"We're not telling everyone they need to go to college," she said. "We don't want to take our eye off the technical-training ball, either."

More students are choosing community colleges to save money on tuition and get work force training in a tough job market.

There are a "few seats left" at Butler Community College, school president Jackie Vietti said this week.

"I'd rather have that problem, though, than not enough students in the seats," she said.

That's why Vietti sees Talent Dividend as a "perfect fit" for the school's mission to produce graduates primed for success.

A former Wichitan who studies the value of talent development and retention said city leaders are on the right track with the contest.

"The bottom line is that when trying to build communities with an enduring engine for economic growth, matching up the right educational levels is a critical piece," said James Chung, a Wichita Collegiate graduate who founded Reach Advisors, a New York-based research firm that studies emerging shifts in the consumer landscape.

Chung said Wichita's mixture of manufacturing, chemicals, meat processing and entrepreneurship have served it well in the post-bubble economy.

"Back to talent development and retention, these aren't jobs where someone can just walk in and produce," Chung said.

"All of these jobs require different forms of cognitive skills, whether for complex manufacturing jobs or industrial R&D.

"Growth simply isn't sustainable without careful thought about talent development and retention."