Private sector increases funding for local economic development efforts

Seeking to win the “war for jobs,” local businesses have doubled their financial contributions for economic development, local business leaders announced at a Thursday news conference.

The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, which must go back to the private sector every five years to fund the Greater Economic Development Coalition, announced that it has raised $7.2 million from large contributors, out of a total private sector goal of $9 million.

The money is to be spent over five years, or $1.8 million per year.

The fundraising goal does not include contributions from local governments. New contributions are actually voted on each year, but over the last five years, the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County together contributed $600,000 a year.

The increase in private contributions from about $600,000 to $1.2 million will mean an increase for the GWEDC, said Paul Allen, past chairman of the group.

The GWEDC’s five-year goals include creating or retaining 6,000 primary jobs and $300 million of new capital investment.

It also includes $300,000 per year for a new group, the Leadership Council, composed of representatives of large donor companies. The council will focus on high priority projects to build the economy and community, said Gary Plummer, president of the chamber.

The council will be chaired by Jeff Turner, CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, and Charlie Chandler, CEO of Intrust Bank.

The expected five-year accomplishments for the council include:

Plummer said area businesses were receptive to their plea that more needed to be done to build Wichita’s economy. They recognized that competition to recruit new business and keep existing businesses continues to grow. So, Wichita has to step up its efforts, he said.

“The time has come to declare a war for jobs in Wichita,” he said.

Chamber president Walter Berry said the goal is to raise Wichita’s level of expectations.

The area has grown slowly for decades, falling behind most other cities, in population and vitality, Berry said. It ranks, depending on who does the ranking, between 104th and 204th in economic performance, he said.

“From where I stand, that’s just not acceptable,” he said

The goal, he said, is for Wichita to be ranked in the top 25 metro areas for economic performance within a generation.

Plummer said the next step is to approach more businesses in the area to reach the fundraising goal.

And, he said, a chamber search committee will start meeting to find a permanent president of the coalition. Suzie Ahlstrand has served as interim president for more than a year.