Since the Great Recession of 2008, Wichita and the surrounding region have suffered significant economic setbacks, with job losses in the aviation industry reverberating through the local economy. Recovery has been elusive, and our challenge is now clearly defined in the recently released “Metro Monitor” report by the Brookings Institution.
That report places Wichita 98th out of 100 U.S. cities in several key areas reflecting the quality of life for its citizens. Perhaps even more difficult to accept is that our neighbors, such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, rank much higher and have recovered much more quickly.
Before 2008, Wichita ranked second in the country in export success (and dependency). Thanks to our strong and dynamic aviation industry, international exports fueled our local economy. The opportunity to regain that status is still there, but we must be creative and better informed to make it happen.
As we face that challenge, we need to recognize one certainty: The marketplace of the future is global. By 2018, more than three-fourths of global gross domestic product growth will be outside the United States. Thus, exports are a cornerstone of our future economic growth.
Small businesses such as Balco learned that the global marketplace can insulate them from domestic economic downturns. By expanding into international sales, Balco was able to prosper throughout the Great Recession. Other local companies, such as Lee Aerospace, JR Custom Metal Products and RedGuard, are intentionally following a similar path, aggressively looking at the global marketplace as their foundations to economic stability and growth.
We are inspired by the Innovation Campus at Wichita State University and the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth. Working together, they can generate the new products and services to lead us back to prosperity. Those new enterprises will likely get their start in the domestic economy, much the same as the aviation industry did. But to survive and pros- per, they must eventually enter the global marketplace.
Exports cannot be an afterthought as companies develop their growth strategies. Rather, they should be a frontline resource essential to any such discussion.
At Kansas Global Trade Services, we have seen firsthand results of successful export strategies. The “how-to” expertise of Kansas Global’s staff, led by CEO Karyn Page, is unmatched locally. Company after company can provide testimonials about the value of this nonprofit’s knowledge and experience in the global marketplace.
Going forward, let’s enthusiastically support our community’s new economic development strategy, led by the newly formed Greater Wichita Partnership. But as we do, let’s also keep opportunities in the global marketplace of the future in full view.
Woody Swain is board chairman of Kansas Global Trade Services. Ronnie Leonard, president and CEO of Balco Inc., is a board member.