City leaders acknowledge crossroads for economic development

WICHITA, Kansas – City leaders say it’s time for Wichita to put its money where its mouth is, and pony up some serious cash for economic development.

The number they’re looking at is $90 million to retain, expand and bring new business to the Air Capital.

The plan comes from the Chamber of Commerce, city and Sedgwick County. It is a three-tier proposal to help Wichita recover from the recession they say has cost the city more than 10 percent of its jobs.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” Gary Plummer, president of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, said. “Therefore we cannot continue to do things the way we have in the past. We have a sense of urgency to try and change that and to try to beef up the resources that we have.”

It calls for more entrepreneurs to launch businesses, retaining and expanding current businesses, and luring new business through incentives, to the tune of a $90 million fund over a five-year period. Supporters say it would be a big step up from the $1.6 million annually it has now, which is small compared to neighboring cities like Oklahoma City, which operates a $75 million economic development fund.

“No one can beat us at what we do, but the thing is that there are some businesses that we have not been able to get in the game, or even go to ask them to take a look at the city of Wichita,” mayor Carl Brewer said.

How they would get to that number is ultimately up to the City Council, but the only idea floated around so far is a one cent sales tax, from which part of that would be used to fund the war chest.

“We have to go to the citizens to ask them how they want us to come up with this, because we recognize that we have approximately 31,000 people that are unemployed, that are looking for jobs, and we have businesses that need to expand,” Brewer said.

Chamber officials say the writing is on the wall, and it’s time to go on offense to create jobs.

“As community leaders, we owe it to the community to try to do that,” Wayne Chambers, chairman of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, said. “The one thing that seems to surface that we can’t compete very well when we have these conversations is the job fund itself.”

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