As the volunteer leadership and staff of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce look to the year ahead, a single driving mission holds our attention: How can we create a competitive operating environment that provides our business members with the best opportunities for recovery and success?
We are banking on the fact that at some point in 2010 our metro economy will begin to recover. That pending turnaround requires that we be vigilant now in examining factors that will allow us to overcome the inertia of the past 18 months. Below are a number of our top "ramp up" priorities:
* We need proactive and visionary elected leaders to establish a dynamic, strong business environment that encourages business attraction and expansion in both the Wichita metro area and Kansas. We are pleased to have former state Rep. Jason Watkins as our director of government relations to actively pursue this goal on behalf of Wichita's business community. He will be a point person to clearly share this business community expectation in Topeka, Sedgwick County, and the city of Wichita.
* The Chamber's top lobbying initiative will be to hold the line on any tax increase in 2010. This includes leaving current tax exemptions and economic drivers untouched. Our business members have been clear in stressing that one of the most important factors in their recovery process is a stable business environment with no added tax burden. Since they are the top generators of jobs and attendant tax revenue, we will work diligently to represent their interests.
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* One of the realities of successful economic development is that you "never get off the treadmill, you only run faster." Our economic development teams set a record in 2009 by calling on 118 local businesses to assure that local businesses were aware of our organization's ability to assist them in accessing and using local and state expansion tools; and to gain a candid business owner assessment of our regional business environment. More business and expansion visits will occur in the year ahead.
* Our economic development team and leadership team is also working closely with our aerospace companies to understand their new competitive environment. We want to be clear on how our private and public economic development team can assist them in stabilizing and growing their businesses in Wichita. Despite layoffs, aviation is still our state's largest industry and greatest economic asset, contributing more than 20 percent to the state general fund.
* Small-business growth is one of the dynamic drivers of our regional economy, so the natural question is: What do small-business owners need to successfully grow their businesses? We asked more than 120 business owners and executives that exact question in 2009. Their detailed sharing of their top needs is allowing us to launch new small-business programs in 2010 that will strengthen their knowledge of what is occurring in our business environment, provide them with applicable business strategies and tactics, give them access to leadership peer networks, and present them with new business development tools.
* The competition between metro areas is real and growing by the day. 2010 provides Greater Wichita with a unique two-year window to create a progressive downtown strategic plan that will position us for competitive success against our peer competitors in the years ahead.
Two Chamber initiatives, Visioneering Wichita, by engaging hundreds of leaders and citizens in this design effort, and Young Professionals of Wichita, via implementing their Destination ICT Community Handprint, will both be at the center of this future downtown development effort.
The year ahead will be extremely dynamic and crucial to Wichita's future success. I want to challenge all the businesses, employees and general citizens to work collaboratively to assure that the right steps are taken to guarantee a strong economic recovery.