Rough week, but still reasons to hope

A law enforcement officer slain for the first time in 12 years. A new warning of 3,850 more manufacturing job cuts locally in 2010, amid reports that September saw 263,000 jobs lost nationally and a $67æmillion revenue shortfall in Kansas. Closing announcements for the two Saturn of Wichita locations. Word that flu is “everywhere” in Wichita schools, aggravating H1N1 worries.

Wichita has had better weeks.

So it rang true that the second year of the three-year Gallup/Knight Foundation “Soul of the Community” survey, also announced last week, found a significant decline in how warmly Wichitans feel toward Wichita.

“We highly value college education and health care, and we’re doing a great job with both. But we could be better at a few things, too,” wrote Anne Corriston, Knight’s program director for Wichita, on the poll’s blog. “We could be more welcoming to college graduates and have even more social offerings — fun places where people can meet. We could improve the aesthetics, particularly natural settings.” The poll’s results also stir concerns about citizens’ lack of faith in the community’s leaders, crime prevention and resilience.

But to believe that Wichita will see outstanding weeks again — if not soon enough — all it takes is a little faith in Wichita’s stature as global planemaker and entrepreneurial incubator, and in the capacity of local economic development leaders and initiatives to succeed.

Even as neighbors try to help hurting neighbors, Wichita and Sedgwick County are stepping up efforts toward a vibrant core, identifying Boston’s Goody Clancy as the firm best able to craft a downtown plan and putting the finishing touches on the Intrust Bank Arena. Last week the Greater Wichita YMCA purchased land to build a badly needed new downtown branch and the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita held a “roof raising” for its new pharmacy school.

The autumn so far has been full of events to fund good causes, mark the 40th anniversary of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sedgwick County, and break ground on the long-sought South Vietnamese memorial. This weekend marks the start of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s Classics Season and Wichita’s second Big Read.And with all due respect to the skilled forecasters at Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research, here’s hoping the next year proves them wrong. Assuming the center is right, though, Wichita could see small gains in service jobs in 2010, as well as 1,000 new jobs in government. Housing may be stabilizing in Wichita, which was just named the 10th-most affordable housing market in the United States.

And let’s not forget how much more miserable things would be if not for the much-maligned stimulus bill, which is funneling $54æmillion to Sedgwick County for education, job training, social services, housing and transportation.

In other words, there are real reasons to have hope for Wichita’s future.

Meanwhile, our prayers and thoughts continue to be with the loved ones of Sedgwick County sheriff’s Deputy Brian Etheridge, who died in a Monday ambush while investigating a seemingly routine larceny call. As impressive as the community outpouring was — from the massive law enforcement response Monday to the moving funeral, procession and burial Friday — its scale cannot compare with the hole left in a city’s heart when it loses a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.