A conversation with Andrew Nave of Greater Wichita Partnership

Andrew Nave
Andrew Nave Courtesy photo

Andrew Nave’s father used to joke that his son’s career revolved around trash.

Hopefully, he considers his son to have graduated. Nave took over as executive vice president of economic development for the Greater Wichita Partnership about six weeks ago.

Nave works under Jeff Fluhr, president of the partnership.

A native of Overland Park, Nave has worked in economic development his whole career. Most recently he was executive director of the Shawnee Economic Development Council.

He is married to Jandee, and they have five children.

Q. What’s your background?

A. My father was a postmaster and is now teaching political science in community college in Tulsa. … I come from a family of public servants. I have a twin sister who is a police officer in Austin. My sister the nurse is in San Antonio. My brother has been a teacher. My mom is a teacher.

When she found out I was getting a business degree, she thought, ‘Oh, thank God, one of them will make some money.’ I told her, ‘No, Mom. I’m going into this thing called economic development, which is really kind of nonprofit work.’

Q. How did you get into economic development?

A. My dad knew the president of the Chamber of Commerce and knew I wanted to do something in business or government, and this was a crossroads of those things. I got this county between Springfield and West Plains, Wright County (Mo.). There are 12,000 people in the whole place, so it’s pretty rural. … They got a third or half of Springfield’s trash, and they used that tipping fee to generate money for the economic development office. Then I was No. 2 guy at Shawnee, then No. 2 guy at Overland Park, then the top guy in Shawnee.

In Shawnee, the landfill also funds economic development. So my dad likes to joke that my whole career revolves around trash.

Q. So, what do you think of Wichita?

A. When this opportunity came about, I did a little research, and I was blown away. Quite frankly, I’m somewhat embarrassed as a Kansan to not realize how much was going on in Wichita.

Q. Such as?

A. The redevelopment of downtown, this new airport – Kansas City can’t figure out how to redo their airport, but this community did. Their downtown is quite a bit bigger, but this downtown story of a half-billion in investment is comparable to what’s happened in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. … Kansas City is three times our size, but the investment is not three times as much.

The point is our story can stand with other cities in the region. It seems like there is a lot of momentum now. Wichita State’s Innovation Campus. Wichita Area Technical College with the Promise Program, started to provide technical education for Sedgwick County residents for free. That is huge.

Q. But isn’t Wichita similar to a lot of other midsized Midwestern cities, with their low costs and educated workforces?

A. The joke in economic development is that we all have beautiful girls and smart boys and it’s a great place to work and we all have a Midwestern work ethic. Where this community is well positioned is at the nexis of both workforce and cost. There are lots of places in the Midwest that can promote low cost of living and Midwestern work ethic, but not as many that can command the size of workforce.

We have the scale to get in on just about every deal in the country, but we are also small enough that we don’t have to deal with the congestion and cost pressure of a Dallas, Austin or Denver.

Q. What is Wichita lacking?

A. Turn-key, ready-to-go spec buildings. Sometimes companies’ leases are up in six months, and they don’t have nine or 12 months to wait for a building to be constructed. Office space is a different story. We’ve got some office availability, especially downtown and all over the community.

The other challenge, and we’re not alone in this, is a lack of brand, lack of image. We’re just flyover country, and nobody knows us.

Q. But you’re really optimistic about this. How come?

A. It’s kind of a new day. This is a new organization. And it seems to me there is a new support and emphasis. I’ve been blown away by the private sector support. … Private sectors leaders stepping and saying we want our community moving forward.

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis