Trends to watch as Wichita develops

Analyst James Chung will be back in Wichita this year with more suggestions and data to help the city grow and develop.
Analyst James Chung will be back in Wichita this year with more suggestions and data to help the city grow and develop. Courtesy photo

Harvard analyst James Chung will return to Wichita in late spring with more numbers and data, trends and suggestions. Once again, he’ll give them to the city he loves – and longs to help.

He has said Wichita is not growing and developing enough economically, that global trends run against the city and that it should seize upon some of them.

Wichitans such as Shelly Prichard were already aware of the trends and are using what they’re learning to shop Wichita around to companies and people they hope to attract.

Prichard is director of the Wichita Community Foundation, which has brought Chung here and financed much of his “deep dive” exploration into Wichita’s economic development future.

Chung’s next visit to Wichita, over several days to be named later, will offer “more and deeper data,” more suggestions for development, and will highlight things that are working, she said.

Here are some of those demographic shifts and economic trends that should both worry and attract us. You can find them, among other places, in the voluminous documents compiled by the Greater Wichita Partnership; for example, in a “Top Ten Global Trends” document done by Progressive Urban Management Associates.

▪ Technology. Jobs and entire careers are changing, and people in the workforce must become more adaptable. Online buying has become big, though still not as big as retail. Retail has had to fight harder and smarter to stay in business.

“Wichita is already working hard on more important new things,” Prichard said. “Everything from new drones to the new programs being developed at Wichita State University with cybersecurity. I keep looking around and seeing what an incredible place this is.”

▪ Fatigue. As in, the fatigue of millions of Americans living in San Francisco, New York and other “first-tier” cities so choked with traffic and so expensive that people (and companies) long to live elsewhere, including in smaller places like Wichita.

Jeff Fluhr, who leads the Greater Wichita Partnership, has seized on this as a way to attract people here. It’s not just that we don’t have traffic jams, Fluhr says. It’s that our homes and lifestyles are more affordable, including to college-educated people looking to start careers and families.

▪ Walkable cities. People are looking for what Old Town offers: homes, businesses and entertainment within walking distance. One subtrend: Only 60 percent of 18-year-olds have driver’s licenses now; in the 1980s, it was 80 percent. They buy or rent homes in places like Old Town, where they can walk to everything, including their jobs.

Wichita has recognized that and is trying to attract people to Old Town with newly built bus transit shelters, apartments, hotels, restaurants and parking garages.

Car sharing, bicycle sharing and old-fashioned walking are becoming not just cost-savers nationwide but lifestyle choices made by people tired of long car commutes.

▪ Education and talent. Cities all over the nation are deliberately trying to attract college-educated people, especially to their downtowns. All work is honorable. But college graduates earn more. And they spend more, on everything from movies to clothes to homes to cars to taxes. College-educated workers make up one-third of the American workforce but produce more than half of the nation’s economic output, according to Progressive Urban Management Associates. So it’s not a puzzle about why Fluhr and Wichita have spent so much effort on downtown.

▪ Younger people. Younger generations in general put more priority on lifestyles and workplaces that prioritize diversity, collaboration and inclusive situations.

Roy Wenzl: 316-268-6219, @roywenzl