Air Capital of the World? Check.
Home to Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the world? Check.
Most economically and civically engaged citizens? Not yet, but I think we are on our way. And, we’d better be if we want to sustain our momentum.
If the ever increasing prevalence of the Wichita flag is a sign, engagement in Wichita is on the rise. In the last several years downtown has begun a rebirth, an entrepreneurship ecosystem has taken root, and it’s hard to be in Wichita and not feel like something special is taking place.
The question for all of us is: How do we make sure this ascent is not just a blip?
Sustaining momentum will require more Wichitans to step up and take risks. It will require continuing to celebrate what we have – Air Capital of the World and Koch Industries – and more urgency to create what we don’t – more startups, more investment, best-in-class schools, etc.
Key catalysts like Jeff Fluhr, president of the Greater Wichita Partnership, and Shelly Prichard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation, are using their positional authority to push the metro area forward. Fluhr with his relentless optimism (see the inspiring Project Downtown) and Prichard with her equally relentless pragmatism (see the powerful work the foundation has done with economic analyst James Chung).
But sustaining the momentum will take equal parts leadership from key individuals like these and numerous Wichitans we haven’t even heard of yet.
Much like the old adage about great sports teams that reload rather than rebuild, an increasingly diverse, talented and committed cadre of citizens must exercise leadership with optimism and pragmatism if we are to sustain the momentum in Wichita.
We can’t afford for people to wait until they are asked to lead. They simply need to step up.
Witness the great work by Christina and Jonathan Long, two of the forces behind the Wichita Urban Professionals, or Seth Etter, who is connecting citizens to government through technology at Open Wichita.
While we need Koch, Textron Aviation and Spirit AeroSystems to grow and thrive, we also need to fan the flames of the gritty, smart and determined entrepreneurs taking risks to make their lives better and enhancing our community along the way.
Kurt and Jessica Schmidt come to mind. They took a risk to open Picasso’s Pizzeria in Delano a few years ago. It has become a huge part of the Delano community. It has character and energy. It’s a hub of activity.
And it happened because the Schmidts put themselves on the line, made their lives better, and in doing so, enhanced the community.
Fluhr, Prichard, the Longs and the Schmidts are just a few of the hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals who have stepped up over the last decade to exercise leadership in Wichita. More are out there. Maybe their names will be known some day; maybe not.
The Kansas Leadership Center alone has trained more than 2,000 Wichitans to engage, care and risk more on behalf of our community.
But for Wichita to thrive, for what we are experiencing today to be more than just a blip, we’ll need to demonstrate we are more than the Air Capital of the World, more than the home of Koch Industries.
We are proudly those things, plus the home of innovative entrepreneurs and citizens who vote, solve problems and contribute. I believe we can become the home of the most engaged citizens in America.
If we do, we will sustain our momentum, grow our economy and enhance our quality of life.
Ed O’Malley is president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.