To encourage more people to pick up and move to Wichita for high-demand jobs, one local organization wants to help pick up the tab.
The Wichita Community Foundation announced Monday that it will partner with WSU Tech to create Wichita Promise MOVE, a program that will pay housing, transportation and other expenses for students who want to move to Wichita to train for certain high-demand jobs.
The foundation plans to invest $1 million to create the Talent Ecosystem Fund. An initial grant of $500,000 will go to WSU Tech — formerly Wichita Area Technical College — to help pay cost-of-living expenses for students who want to relocate to Wichita from other cities or states.
Foundation officials said the initiative is one response to challenges posed by James Chung, a Wichita native who now runs Reach Advisors, a New York-based strategy and research firm. The foundation hired Chung three years ago to analyze Wichita's strengths, problems and potential, and he returned Monday to offer an update on progress toward those challenges.
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In his initial report Chung said more people are moving out of Wichita than moving in, and the deficit in human capital could have a negative effect on the city.
Sheree Utash, president of WSU Tech, thanked the foundation for its leadership "and for this incredible financial commitment to address some of the issues that we've heard today.
"These dollars will allow us to invest in workforce development and to create some innovative strategies to create the workforce that this community badly needs," she said.
The new initiative aims to increase Wichita's skilled workforce "by removing barriers that keep individuals from getting trained," the foundation said in its announcement. It will pay tuition and fees for certain high-demand certifications at WSU Tech, as well as some students' housing, transportation and other living expenses.
This fall the only program eligible for the new scholarship will be aviation sheet metal mechanic, said WSU Tech spokesman Andy McFayden. The school hopes to expand the initiative to include other programs such as CNC machine operation, composite fabrication, surgical technology or dental assistant.
Earlier this year, Spirit AeroSystems said it was looking to add 1,000 well-paying jobs to its already hefty Wichita workforce. The jobs, on average, will pay $56,000 annually, not including overtime or bonuses, according to the Greater Wichita Partnership.
Utash said the new program will accelerate the two-year-old Wichita Promise Scholarship program and will allow WSU Tech to recruit students from other areas who may balk at the cost of moving to Wichita.
"It also gives us the ability to assist students with relocation packages, with cost of living expenses while they're in training, and maybe even some kind of sign-on bonus," she said.