Identifying our path forward

Craig Bay
Craig Bay Courtesy photo

Have you ever wondered what characteristics define a “region”? Is it the people, identifiable community assets or possibly the economic drivers that influence business?

Regions are innate to how we live. Many of us live in one city, work in another and shop and play in a variety of others. The more opportunities and options, the stronger a region is. Successful regions prosper by their collective wins. In south-central Kansas, we are using our existing resources in new ways. There’s no magic – just the hard work of convening, identifying our path forward and getting it done.

For the past 17 months, I have been honored to work with regional economic development professionals from 10 counties: Butler, Cowley, Harper, Harvey, Kingman, Marion, McPherson, Reno, Sedgwick and Sumner. These counties form the core of intentional, collaborative efforts focused on specific implementation strategies centered on eight industry sectors that drive business growth and jobs as outlined by the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth.

Economy of scale

Our region is bigger, faster and stronger when we work together. Every community we are engaged with is working to stretch limited resources to obtain the best results. Through collaboration, we can leverage the strengths of our region and amplify our message. This is demonstrated through joint efforts to attend industry trade shows, organize regional initiatives and successfully solicit state and federal funds.

The scope of services to sustain and grow businesses ranges from how to launch a business (Small Business Administration) to exporting products (Kansas Global Trade Services), special funding program (South Central Kansas Economic Development District and Network Kansas) and leadership development (Kansas Leadership Center) among many others.

A recent example of this collaborative engagement is a nearly $6 million Kansas Advanced Manufacturing Program grant to increase our region’s workforce skills. Two regional workforce boards – Workforce Alliance and Workforce One – along with each county, educational institutions and private businesses came together to apply for and win the grant. This grant is designed to move low-wage and underemployed workers to high-paying manufacturing careers.

Business growth

When considering expansion or relocation, companies look first at regions. Each community in our region offers unique assets, from land and water to infrastructure with rail and highway access and electric options.

Thinking regionally means we’re looking at all 10 counties and marketing our overall assets, knowing that wherever a company wants to locate, we will have the workforce, infrastructure and foundations needed. Companies are drawn to successful regions that have high levels of cooperation among partners and governments who work in unison to deliver a highly qualified workforce.

The educational centers and institutions throughout the region play a critical role in addressing business needs, and our local institutions are stepping up in original ways. Wichita State’s Innovation Campus is redefining the university’s role by streamlining private businesses interaction with the potential future workforce: students. Butler Community College with new cybersecurity curriculum, Cowley College’s campus commitment to Wellington with an ag-tech focus, Friends University’s cybersecurity and supplier management programs, Hutchinson Community College’s Brooks Center and Newman University’s state-of-the-art science building opening this fall areexamples of regional institutions aligning programs and investments with industry sector requirements to support skilled workers.

Coming together

In Kansas, we are known for our work ethic and highly-skilled workers. Our 10-county region was drawn specifically because of this sought-after group of people. Every day, from every county, people commute across the region to their desired jobs. We think nothing of crossing over these invisible geographic lines, and neither do businesses. People are, and will always be, the first and most important reason for regional efforts.

The idea of regionalism will continue to build and become a common term as we approach solving critical challenges and take hold of new opportunities together. The efforts of regional partners to implement the regional initiative are complemented by the Regional Area Economic Partnership, a group of 26 city and county governments that aim to collectively enhance the regional economy. The support of our elected officials, such Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, who publicly promotes the effectiveness of regionalism, has been instrumental in making this vision a reality.

Craig Bay is director of special projects for the Greater Wichita Partnership. Reach him at or 316-500-6650.