There will be more jobs in Wichita this year — just not ones you may have expected

The Wichita area's job growth in 2018 will be mainly driven by increases in hiring by hotels and restaurants, a new Wichita State University employment forecast says.
The Wichita area's job growth in 2018 will be mainly driven by increases in hiring by hotels and restaurants, a new Wichita State University employment forecast says. File photo

An updated employment forecast predicts more jobs in the Wichita area in 2018, but not in aircraft manufacturing.

Rather, the growth is expected to come from hotels and restaurants — jobs that pay considerably less than aircraft work.

The Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University released a second update for its 2018 jobs forecast on Wednesday.

The forecast, which predicts job growth in four sectors of the local economy — production; trade, transportation and utilities; service; and government — expects the Wichita area to add 1,188 jobs in 2018.

That's slightly higher than an updated forecast in January, which called for the addition of 1,065 jobs in the five-county metro area: Butler, Harvey, Kingman, Sedgwick and Sumner counties. The center produces an annual forecast in the fall for the coming year, followed by updates at the first of the new year and in the spring.

""We're still thinking Wichita will have ... an expanding economy, but not a very robust expanding economy," said Jeremy Hill, WSU economist and the center's director.

The bulk of the area's additional jobs — 905 of them — are expected to come from the service sectors, specifically leisure and hospitality, Hill said.

While restaurant jobs will account for some of the growth, Hill said it's the addition of new hotels in the Wichita area that's prompting jobs expansion in the leisure and hospitality sector.

"We continue to build these hotels," he said. "That's been an interesting, driving force."

The additional jobs are not necessarily in the most profitable sector.

According to the most recent Kansas Wage Survey from the Kansas Department of Labor, Wichita-area hotel clerks, for example, had an average annual wage in 2017 of $20,646. Compare that with a sheet metal worker in the area's aircraft industry, who made an average annual wage of $41,255 in 2017, according to the survey.

In the production sector, which includes aircraft manufacturing, jobs are expected to decline by 33 positions in 2018, the updated forecast said.

That's despite plans by Spirit AeroSystems and Bombardier to add 900 new jobs between them this year.

Late last year, Spirit, the city's largest employer, announced plans to hire an additional 1,000 mostly production workers over two years, with the bulk of the hiring expected in 2018. Bombardier announced plans to add 100 jobs when it moves its Global 5000 business jet interior completions work from Canada to Wichita later this year.

"I'm not so sure all of the positive news means we're growing," Hill said.

He said the gains at Bombardier and Spirit are offset by contraction and consolidation by smaller manufacturers that supply parts to Spirit and other aircraft manufacturers. In some cases, work the smaller firms have done has been taken back by larger manufacturers, who are now doing it themselves. Retirements in aircraft manufacturing may also be affecting the numbers, Hill said, but he doesn't have the data to confirm that.

"It is hard to get your hands on," he said. "It's definitely not showing up in the (employment) numbers, not showing up in output in durables manufacturing."

The area's other employment sectors, trade and government, are expected to add 204 and 112 jobs, respectively, in 2018, the forecast said.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark