(reprint of guest editorial published in the Wichita Eagle May 18, 2014 by Gary Schmitt, chairman of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.)
Wichita’s economic recovery has been painfully slow. We’ve worked hard at finding ways to replace the 31,000 jobs that were lost during the recession, but the competition has been fierce among neighboring states and even other countries. And the valuable jobs that we’ve lost in the aviation industry aren’t easy ones to replace.
Are we satisfied with the pace of our current recovery? Or are we ready to consider some bolder game-changing moves that will vault us to the top of the list among communities known for being business-friendly? These are challenging questions, and we need your voice to be heard.
Wichita is blessed with a rich heritage of hardworking entrepreneurs who have changed the world with their innovative products and services. The best way to grow our economy is to make sure we take good care of the companies we have here today, and we need to be doing more to help all of our small businesses that sell products and services outside of our community experience accelerated growth.
Growing “our own” also helps make our region even more attractive to companies outside of our state that may be thinking about relocating. It sends a strong message that this is exactly the kind of place where both your company and family can thrive.
Realizing we need to work a lot harder, community leaders have been asking the question: “How competitive do we want to be?” This simple question has initiated a cascade of passionate discussion.
We think the timing is right for the community to provide more input into the conversation, too. We need to talk about how many more jobs could be created if we have more competitive financial incentive packages for businesses that sell goods and services outside the community bringing in new dollars. Perhaps more important, it’s also time to discuss what happens if we don’t develop new tools to help our businesses grow new jobs.
Private-sector volunteer leaders believe our community needs to have all the right tools to be competitive. Financial incentives are one of the many tools our national and international competitors use to grow their local economies, and if we are to be competitive, we need to follow suit. There’s no indication the competition is going to reduce or eliminate their use of incentives in the future, which is forcing us to increase our efforts.
Financial incentives are used by companies to reduce operating costs at one location versus another. They can be used in a variety of ways to aid business growth, including workforce training and building permanent taxable assets that, in turn, keep everyone’s taxes lower.
So let the discussions begin, and as a community we can come to the right decision. It’s a complex issue and there aren’t any simple answers. That’s why we need the open conversation about all the ways to help our businesses expand and employ more people.
Are we satisfied with our status quo? Help us identify our community’s solutions to this issue by reviewing the plan and offering your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.