Light traffic is nice. But wouldn't we welcome some more cars on the road for a truly transformative identity that attracts outsiders and inspires locals?
Watch this short video to learn more about the Perception Challenge and what it means for Wichita.
WHO ARE WE?
There's much to like about Wichita. Traffic is light, cost of living is low and everyone seems to be pretty friendly. But these aren't the critical accelerants that lead to robust economic growth.
Wouldn't we welcome a few more cars on the road for a truly transformative identity that attracts more outsiders and inspires locals?
Other Midwestern cities already have. Des Moines, Iowa was called "the best place to live" by Business Insider. Omaha, Nebraska was called a city for "thriving startups" by Money Magazine. Grand Rapids, Michigan was called the "best city to raise a family" by Forbes.
Recognitions like these surely lead to positive perceptions. But Wichita native and business analyst James Chung says it's more likely that a positive perception led to these awards. These cities got recognition because they changed their DNA to become newer, better versions of themselves. That attracted successful workers and innovative ideas.
It's pretty remarkable what Des Moines did. What's their sweet spot? Really boring stuff, but it really matters to people. And they figured out how to exploit that.
Des Moines realized it had to change its perception in order to grow, Chung says. But instead of trying to become a “hip” place for young college graduates, Des Moines focused on becoming the city to which its former residents would want to return. It focused on creating strong schools, a robust corporate environment and a perception that the city would allow a better work-life balance, whether a family wanted to live in an urban, suburban or rural environment.
"It’s pretty remarkable what Des Moines did,” Chung says. “What’s their sweet spot? What’s the special stuff? Really boring stuff, but it really matters to people. And they figured out how to exploit that.”
Many say they appreciate Wichita’s Midwestern friendliness, but the Census Bureau on Civic Engagement found that the city may not be as friendly as it seems.
Out of 108 cities, Wichita ranked eleventh lowest on talking with neighbors frequently, ninth lowest on doing favors for neighbors frequently and lowest on seeing and hearing from family and friends frequently.
If [warm and friendly is] what we're selling, that might not be what we're necessarily delivering. And we need to think about that.James Chung
And even if we were providing friendliness, would that really create an identity that competes with the likes of Des Moines or Omaha?
Perception may seem benign when compared to systemic issues like the business cycle or the lack of human capital. But the image of a city can be the difference between a business coming to Wichita or not. It can be the difference between attracting outsiders or losing locals.
We need to take it upon ourselves to engage with the community — to do what we can to create a better identity for locals and outsiders alike.