Wichita still waiting to feel recovery

If the Great Recession officially ended more than a year ago, when is the Wichita economy going to get the memo and start acting accordingly?

True, the local jobless rate improved from 8.5 percent in July to 8.2 percent in August, having slid a full percentage point over the past year.

That's moving in the right direction, if not at the desired pace.

But Tuesday brought more alarming news: Another 700 jobs are being cut at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita, along with a downward adjustment in the production schedule.

That will make the company's local work force half the size it was just two years ago, when Cessna employed 12,000 people in Wichita.

The job cuts, announced just three days after Cessna dodged a strike called for by the Machinists union leadership, mean more area families will go into the holiday season fretting about how to cover bills and find new employment and income.

It also would seem to guarantee a continuing need for the Laid-Off Workers Center and the other countermeasures coordinated and funded by the United Way of the Plains, which just launched its fall campaign aiming to raise $15 million. Other area social service agencies will feel the jolt, too, and need more help from the community to respond.

South-central Kansas' continuing challenge merits special attention in Topeka, especially with the Wichita jobless rate still so much worse than the statewide 6.6 percent. State spending that has a direct, demonstrable effect on Wichita-area economic development needs to be treated as a priority in the next legislative session. That includes the $5 million a year the state has invested in affordable air service at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, a five-year commitment set to expire next summer.

Members of the Kansas delegation also must continue to do all they can to ensure that the Air Force's aerial-refueling tanker contract goes to Boeing and its jobs go to Americans, which should include Wichitans. The next round of Pentagon decision making, expected late this year or early next year, must be the last round.

The mission of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and the area investment of the Kansas Bioscience Authority take on special urgency as well, underscoring the need to diversify Wichita's economy in the way of versatile composite materials, renewable energy technology and more.

Wichita's aviation cluster will be back on top — and can claim to be there now, thanks to a recent Brookings Institution study naming it the No. 1 American metropolitan area in export growth.

And growth in the aviation industry typically lags growth in corporate profits. Before planemakers can start hiring again, unsold aircraft must find customers and new orders must be placed.

Too bad knowing that doesn't make the wait any less painful, or ease the pain for those who just want to get back to work.