Wichita leaders have said for years that the city is too dependent on the aviation industry and needs to diversify, yet there seems to be little change – other than more aviation layoffs.
But a new effort spearheaded by Wichita State University and led by area businesses is a promising attempt to grow key industries and move Wichita and the region forward.
The Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth, which was unveiled last week, identified eight industry “clusters” in the region that have growth potential. These clusters are advanced materials; aerospace; agriculture inputs and processing; data services and electronic components; health care; machinery and metalworking; oil and gas production and transportation; and transportation and logistics.
The blueprint was initiated by WSU as a part of the planning for its Innovation Campus. The city of Wichita, Sedgwick County, WSU, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. and the Regional Economic Area Partnership paid the $235,000 cost of the cluster study.
But unlike some past economic development efforts, this process will be led by businesses, not local governments.
Representatives from businesses in each cluster will meet three times during the next three months to identify common challenges – such as a raw material or workforce issue. They then will identify needed actions and begin implementing strategies.
WSU will provide key support, such as research and development, to help the businesses solve their problems. But success will depend on the businesses engaging with one another and following through.
That business-driven focus is especially important given the current uncertainty regarding government incentives and the conflicting economic development philosophies of city and county leaders.
Another important key is the regional focus. The 10 counties in the study are Sedgwick, Butler, Cowley, Harper, Harvey, Kingman, Marion, McPherson, Reno and Sumner.
Wichita and Sedgwick County are not large enough to compete with many other cities and counties. By working together, the entire region can benefit.
“Regionalizing it is critical,” Intrust Bank CEO Charlie Chandler, a co-chairman of the initiative, told The Eagle editorial board.
What’s best about the blueprint is that it isn’t a new, theoretical idea. Other cities and regions have used similar collaborative approaches to help their communities grow.
“We know it works,” said Hutchinson attorney Brad Dillon, who also co-chaired the initiative.
Now it is up to business leaders to make it work.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee