Wichita must appeal to young adults

The good news is that young professionals rank "cost of lifestyle" as the most important factor when choosing where to live, and Wichita rates among the top cities in the nation in affordability.

The not-so-good news is that they also value community vitality, entertainment options and diversity, and Wichita doesn't rate as well in these areas.

But to their credit, local leaders are working to improve some of these weaknesses, and there are other doable improvements that could boost Wichita's appeal with young adults.

The ratings came from a study released this week by Next Generation Consulting and are important because, as the study noted, "cities that attract and retain highly skilled talent grow faster and create more prosperity for the city."

Unfortunately, Wichita hasn't done very well with this population. Its number of 25- to 40-year-olds declined by 2.6 percent between 2000 and 2007, while the aggregated population of 25- to 40-year-olds grew by 2.3 percent in peer cities, according to the study.

In addition, 23 percent of current residents surveyed who were younger than 40 said they plan to leave the area in the next four years. If so, that loss of talent could cost Wichita $610 million in lost economic impact, the study estimated.

The study made several recommendations, including creating an online career portal that advertises the variety of professional jobs available, creating an organization that connects college students to the adult world, and better publicizing the cultural, recreational and entertainment opportunities available in Wichita.

It also identified some quality of life improvements, several of which are under way. For example, the study noted how Wichita has a disconnected park system and lacks bike lanes and paths. Wichita and Sedgwick County governments have started to address these problems, albeit too slowly.

The study also said that a city is only as strong as its downtown, and it applauded work now under way to develop a downtown master plan. The decision to locate the new arena in downtown also was part of an effort to make Wichita more appealing to young adults (though it would help if the arena could book more acts that appeal to this age group).

Another improvement that could make Wichita seem more progressive to young professionals — and make it even more affordable — would be to franchise trash collections, so that recycling becomes more of a community value.

Local leaders understand that Wichita must attract and retain young adults if it is to grow and prosper. And groups such as Young Professionals of Wichita are doing good work. But as the study showed, much more work is needed to convince young professionals that Wichita is a great place to work and call home.