A column written by Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell ignores the reality of Wichita’s economy.
For example, he wrote how Wichita is a “thriving city in a brand new age of possibility.” Construction and change is everywhere, he said.
The problem is this: Even though there seems to be a lot of construction and change, Wichita isn’t thriving.
There are several ways to gauge the economic health of a city. Jobs are probably most important, especially to politicians, and jobs data is available on a frequent and timely basis. And when we look at Wichita’s growth in nonfarm jobs, we see Wichita lagging far behind the nation.
It wasn’t always that way. Nearby charts show the ratio of Wichita job growth to the nation. When the line is above the value one, it means Wichita was outpacing the nation.
Wichita has done that many times — growing faster than the nation. But that hasn’t been the case recently. In fact, as the charts show, the ratio of Wichita to the nation is sinking. Wichita is falling farther behind.
But despite this evidence, the mayor wrote, “In the coming years, we’re going to continue our growth pattern, and we need passionate individuals supporting and expanding upon our efforts.”
I sincerely hope the mayor is not aware of the poor performance of the Wichita-area economy. Because if he is aware, and he promises to “continue our growth pattern,” we’re in for continued trouble. Did you know that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016? That is, we produced fewer goods and services in 2016 than in 2015, after accounting for inflation. 2 Is this the growth pattern the mayor promises to continue?
Finally, the mayor issued this plea: “We can’t be complacent in our comfort. We must reconcile our vibrant history with a limitless future. Let’s shed the stigma of what we have been and embrace the vibrant mantle of what we’re becoming.”
First, anyone who’s complacently comfortable is uninformed or unbelieving of the statistics regarding the Wichita economy.
Second, “what we’re becoming” is a low-growth area, falling behind the rest of the country, with the gap growing. The opposite of “vibrant.”
Then, the “stigma of what we have been” describes Mayor Longwell and other long-time officeholders and bureaucrats. It is they who have taken responsibility for the development of the Wichita-area economy. It is their decisions and policies that have led to our slow growth. They are eager to take credit for the successes we do have. But as the mayor’s ill-informed article shows, they are not willing to accept responsibility for failure, much less to even acknowledge the truth.
For other measures of the Wichita economy, see:
- Growing the Wichita economy. Wichita leaders are proud of our region’s economic growth. Here are the numbers.
- Metro Monitor evaluates the Wichita economy. Metro Monitor from Brookings Institution ranks metropolitan areas on economic performance. How does Wichita fare?
- Greater Wichita Partnership asks for help. Wichita’s economic development agency asks for assistance in developing its focus and strategies.
- Wichita personal income up, a little. For 2016, personal income in Wichita rose, but is still below 2014 levels.
- Wichita employment up. Employment in the Wichita metropolitan area is on an upward tick.
- Longwell, Jeff. All Wichitans have a part in pushing forward. Wichita Eagle, March 4, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559924.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://bobw7.sg-host.com/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/. ↩