HOW A CITY IS MADE. OR BROKEN.
BUSINESS CYCLE / ENTREPRENEURSHIP / HUMAN CAPITAL / PERCEPTION
These four challenges are interwoven, interdependent and vitally important to the success of Wichita — and each provides a unique set of trials each of us must face.
Creating a thriving business community, generating innovative ideas, attracting a steady flow of talent and maintaining a healthy sense of pride. These actions make or break our city.
Here is a breakdown of each challenge with links to short videos that dive even deeper into the findings behind each one.
THE BUSINESS CYCLE CHALLENGE.
Three decades ago, Wichita outperformed the region, and even the nation, in several economic measures. Now, we're behind not only the nation, but many of our Midwestern peers as well.
The economy doesn't cater to specific cities, says Dr. Jay Price, an economic history professor at Wichita State University. It moves ahead with or without Wichita.
Our economic system can produce enormous prosperity and it can also produce ghost towns. Being more comfortable with being part of that larger world, I think, is absolutely going to be essential.Dr. Jay Price
To keep up, Wichita has to adapt to new technologies and global trends in the economy.
THE ENTREPRENEURSHIP CHALLENGE.
Entrepreneurship may seem like an aspect of Wichita that is making a comeback. The passion for innovation is palpable with high attendance at events like 1 Million Cups and Wichitalks, but support in the form of capital and talent has to be there, as well.
Kenton Hansen, a Wichita entrepreneur who co-founded the Labor Party and Startup Wichita, says both passion and support have to happen simultaneously.
We're not firing on all cylinders. Things will happen in fits and starts. We've got to keep pace with everything at the same time.Kenton Hansen
Wichita has a history of entrepreneurship in the form of ideas like Pizza Hut and Coleman. To get back to that, it takes fostering a flow of available capital, a vibrant culture and the willingness to risk it all for a good idea.
THE HUMAN CAPITAL CHALLENGE.
The most important resource for companies today is people willing, able and trained to work. If they can't find them here, they will find them somewhere else, spending millions to relocate.
Despite a well-established higher education community, Wichita has been exporting talent far and wide. The talent necessary to keep businesses isn't being developed fast enough, says Sheree Utash, president of the Wichita Area Technical College (WATC).
The conversation has moved over the last several years to, 'there's not enough people in the pipeline and they don't know how to work.' That is a hard reality.Sheree Utash
Wayne Chambers, president and CEO of High Touch Technologies, says he experiences the lack of talent first-hand.
One of the reasons that we're in other markets is because of the lack of talent in Wichita. ... We found that Wichita didn't really provide us that so we had to go to Dallas, we had to go to Denver, we had to go to Kansas City.Wayne Chambers
Generating human capital requires making Wichita a destination for workers, as well as the businesses that need them.
THE PERCEPTION CHALLENGE.
Perception is all about creating an identity that instills city pride in locals and attracts outsiders. It's not a city slogan, or even a blind love for Wichita. It's creating a persona for our city worth bolstering.
Des Moines, Omaha and Oklahoma City have created personas of affordable, entrepreneurial and vibrant cities — the types of cities to which young professionals and families alike are flocking.
Wichita's perception is starting to change with the city's younger generations, but Janelle King, owner of The Workroom, says that enthusiasm has to spread to other generations and social circles.
Perception of Wichita has to go beyond this core and just this younger, the hipster generation, that, quite honestly, doesn't have the money and the means to truly support these businesses. ... The more we all embrace it, the more it's better for everyone.Janelle King
Changing a perception is not easy, but it is a great opportunity to redefine how the rest of the world views us, and how we view ourselves.
FACING THEM TOGETHER.
Correcting our course won't be easy, but it's certainly not impossible. Wichita native and business analyst James Chung has already laid out what we are up against. That's step one.
Step two is creating common understanding around these challenges and the next steps toward a better Wichita.
Part of what we have to do is figure out how do we get everyone a better common understanding of the issues, common understanding of why things need to be rethought or changed. How do we get as much critical mass in the city as possible understanding these issues and challenges and opportunities?James Chung
It starts with us gaining the understanding of what we are up against. And then it takes each of us doing our part to move our city forward.