Today, thanks to the input of thousands of our citizens and the ongoing hard work of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, the process of building a better community and region moves forward through Visioneering Wichita.
Five years ago when Visioneering started, a study was conducted that compared key economic benchmarks in metropolitan areas of similar size. It showed that our region was losing ground in two important categories — per capita income and job growth.
We could have accepted this situation as being the result of factors beyond our control, or we could have worked independently to address the underlying causes. Instead, we chose to come together and do the first regional, citizen-built, long-range plan. More than 16,000 people chose to participate by providing input, ushering in a new era of broad-based community involvement in coming to grips with some of our biggest challenges.
This process identified eight areas of focus that we felt would make us better able to compete with the hundreds of other regions in the quest for jobs and new capital investment. Last year's measurements showed us gaining ground. Before the economic downturn hit, we saw the first increase in per capita income in 21 years, taking us above the national average, and our job-growth rate more than doubled.
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Undoubtedly, the current economic downturn will have an effect on the next measurement, which only makes it more important to pull together as a community and maintain our focus. Our response will determine how well we will fare when the economy comes out the other side.
These overall benchmarks are the measure of our community's progress and proof that the more than 500 active volunteers are making a difference every day.
Just one example is our first regional unified legislative agenda. It has focused on keeping south-central Kansas tax dollars here to benefit our citizens and businesses. In five years, the unified legislative agenda has brought money back to our region through the work of our local legislators and volunteer-driven efforts. These dollars fuel our region's economy as well as Kansas' economy.
As an example, the affordable airfares initiative has returned $105 million over four years to our state's general fund — more than five times the original state investment of $20 million. Meanwhile, our citizens and businesses have saved more than $197 million on airfares.
Other volunteer groups have competed as regional teams and secured more funding in grants for our region. The birth-to-kindergarten volunteer group worked together to bring $2.2 million over two years to our part of the state. The older-adults group brought more than 14 mini-grants. Before they worked together, no area had received more than one grant at a time.
The hardest benefits to measure are people-based. There are numerous stories of young people choosing to move back to the area because they saw the community was serious about planning and implementing a path to a better future.
On a personal note, I am humbled to serve with such an esteemed group of civic-minded individuals. My interest in many ways is the same as others. As the father of 7-month-old Emma, I want to do all I can to ensure that the community we pass on to her generation is the best it can be. I am privileged to work side by side with others who share this vision and passion.