Business Perspectives

Wichita can learn from its northern neighbors

Johnson and Wyandotte counties make it look easy. Rather, they make economic development look easy. Consider the past 10 years.

In 1999, the Unified Government for Wyandotte County approved the Kansas Speedway STAR bond district. Subsequently, additional STAR bond districts have been approved for Village West, which includes Nebraska Furniture Mart and Cabela's, the Schlitterbahn Vacation Village and, most recently, the proposed soccer complex for the Kansas City Wizards.

The more than $1.5 billion in investment to date represents thousands of new jobs, increased sales tax revenue and an increased property tax base. In 2008, the retail and entertainment district attracted more than 10 million annual visitors, who had an estimated annual economic impact of $243 million on the region and supported over 5,000 jobs. More than 2.4 million people visited Cabela's within its first six months of opening.

Assessed valuations on real property in Wyandotte County more than doubled between 2001 and 2008. Comparatively, Sedgwick County's assessed valuation increased 68 percent in this same period.

In 2008, Johnson County voters approved a referendum to create a dedicated 1/8-cent countywide sales tax to fund to the Johnson County Education Research Triangle. The proceeds are being used to back bonds used to finance new medical and bioscience research and education facilities tied to the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. According to the KU Medical Center Web site, the project will create K-State's National Food Safety and Security Institute in Olathe, significantly expand the University of Kansas Edwards Campus in Overland Park and create a clinical trials center in northeast Johnson County for the KU Medical Center.

The economic impact is estimated to be well over $1 billion over the next 20 years.

Johnson and Wyandotte counties clearly understand the return on their investment and on their future economic viability as evidenced by their far-sighted actions.

Meanwhile, the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission continue to be criticized for their economic development efforts when they should be supported, especially given the economic climate of our country and this region. The criticisms are not discriminatory as all forms of public assistance, including TIF, IRB, special assessment, tax abatements, etc., large and small, have been targeted.

Our community's leadership understands that Wichita and Sedgwick County stand at a crossroads for our future. With continued population migration from rural areas to more urbanized areas, Wichita as a midsize city must be competitive and aggressive in its economic development efforts or be left behind. As a community, we need to step up and support the efforts of our elected officials and private sector leaders to assist with economic development and job creation.

Granted, the "business" structure needs to be done in a way that makes financial sense and minimizes the city's risk. However, when opportunities arise, we should look for ways to make the deal happen rather than seek reasons that preclude moving forward.

Certainly our neighbors and our competition appear to have no such qualms.

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