Jeff Fluhr: Embracing new opportunities in Wichita, south-central Kansas

Jeff Fluhr, president of Greater Wichita Partnership
Jeff Fluhr, president of Greater Wichita Partnership File photo

This year we are embracing new opportunities with increased determination to realize catalytic successes.

Through a collective vision and collaboration, we are growing our community. The Greater Wichita Partnership’s role is clear — to align and focus common strategies that fast-forward economic growth in Wichita and south-central Kansas.

Every day we focus on the complex, yet critical, components that must be in place to align regional efforts to attract people and grow jobs. These are the same strategies all communities and regions have to address to be successful: local company growth, entrepreneurship, workforce development, community perception, workforce retention and attraction, downtown vitality and the quality-of-life issues that intersect all of these areas.

We are fortunate to have a great base of volunteers from every sector and age group working together to advance our region. Each strategic area is complex, requiring multifaceted approaches. Those looking for quick fixes quickly learn that it takes multiple, diverse initiatives with a collective vision to create the right environment.

This is one reason the Greater Wichita Partnership is committed to thinking strategically, acting in concert with partners and being persistent for the short- and long-term.

This past year we also heard the results of a comprehensive analysis regarding our community’s economic condition from James Chung through the Wichita Community Foundation’s Focus Forward initiative.

While the overall data and information identified key challenges, there is a growing determination that it will not define our ultimate trajectory or destiny as a city. However, it has fostered partnerships to aggressively and strategically address the challenges.

Below are a few of the efforts underway to advance our city and region:

▪ Last year the community formed the Greater Wichita Partnership to align and fast-forward economic growth. Now all economic development efforts from downtown to the region are in one place.

Dedicated volunteers and staff are working on multiple fronts to cultivate an environment to foster economic growth.

▪ We have a new, regional approach to growing local businesses. The Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth had our top eight industry cluster groups identify their main barriers to local growth. We now have plans to address those barriers, many of which require multiple partners, such as leveraging innovation for oil and gas and health care to the promotion of advanced manufacturing jobs and IT workforce.

▪ Wichita’s entrepreneurship legacy has a new energy, focus and, most important, multiple efforts.

Through the hard work of many people, new initiatives and activities have launched, from the 1 Million Cups program to the hiring of John Dascher as the new president of the e2e Incubator and Accelerator.

People continue to come together to advance entrepreneurship education in all levels of our schools through Junior Achievement and Youth Entrepreneurs. Other volunteers are bringing together groups to enhance start-up investment. Wichita State University continues its significant role with development of its Innovation Campus.

▪ Workforce development is one critical area where multiple partners and volunteers are coming together and focusing on critical and multiple fronts in both immediate needs and long-term efforts.

The focus is on early childhood literacy as the foundation for the rest of educational attainment plus increased efforts on developing soft skills, which employers continue to cite as a priority.

▪ Keeping and attracting a qualified workforce will be essential for any community that wants to grow.

Working with partners on internships, perception issues, downtown vitality, welcoming culture and quality of life are all linked and important. These also contribute to having robust job and career opportunities for all age ranges plus the training and education to fill those next-generation jobs.

▪ In downtown Wichita, we have reached a half billion dollars in investment in the past five years since the Project Downtown master plan was adopted. We continue to update the market analysis that provided the basis for the master plan, as well as helping facilitate ongoing investment. One rewarding project was filling the “hole” in downtown Wichita with an activated Pop-Up Urban Park.

We are making progress in the development of our community and increasing partnerships throughout the region. This is the time to be involved and contribute toward Wichita realizing its tremendous potential.

Jeff Fluhr is president of Greater Wichita Partnership.