Following the Wichita Mayor, the Chair of the Sedgwick County Commission speaks on economic development.
In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”
This emphasis on the word “momentum” seems to be a fad among Wichita’s government leaders. More about this later.
Dennis also wrote: “Traditional governmental incentives are a thing of the past. There are no more blank checks from Sedgwick County for businesses.”
Except: The county participates in incentive programs that allow companies like Spirit to escape paying taxes, and when you don’t have to pay taxes, that’s the same economic effect as someone giving you cash to pay those taxes. Spirit Aerosystems will receive Industrial Revenue Bonds, which are not a loan of money to Spirit, but allow the company to avoid paying property taxes and sales taxes. 2 3 These incentives are a cost to the county and other units of government, and are as good as cash to Spirit. (For this and many other projects the county is not involved in the approval of the IRB program, but it doesn’t object, and it sees its tacit approval as part of its partnership with the City of Wichita.)
Besides this, the county engages in traditional incentives — almost like a blank check — but disguises them. In this case, for example, the county is contributing $7 million towards the construction of a building exclusively for Spirit’s use. How will the county pay for that? The memorandum that the county agreed to states: “The county participation of $7 million US is anticipated to be available cash.” 4
You might be wondering if the county is treating this contribution as an investment that a business would make, where it would earn back its investment plus a profit by collecting rent from Spirit. After all, county leaders tell us they want to operate government like a business.
But, you’d be wrong if you thought that. The memorandum specifies the rent as $1 per year. Not $1 per square foot per year, but $1 per year for the entire building. Furthermore, at the end of 20 years, Spirit will have the option to purchase the property for $1.
There’s really no way to characterize this transaction other than as a multi-million giveaway to Spirit. Not directly as a blank check or cash, but in a roundabout way that costs the county and benefits Spirit in the same way as cash.
I can understand how Dennis and others like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell want to convince the public that they are no longer dishing out cash. Often, the public doesn’t like that. So instead they do the same thing in roundabout ways like leasing a building for $1 per year or paying millions in cash for a “parking easement” for which the city has no real use. 5 Chairman Dennis and others hope you won’t notice, but these leaders would be more credible if they didn’t try to obfuscate the truth.
At the end of his column, Dennis wrote: “There is a lot of momentum and forward movement in our community right now and I’m encouraged to see what we can achieve as a team.”
There’s that word again: momentum. Coincidently, shortly after this column was published, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published an update to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. It shows the number of jobs in Sedgwick County declining. This update was released after Dennis wrote his column, but as can be seen from the nearby charts, the slowdown in Sedgwick County jobs and the Wichita-area economy is not a new trend.
If Dennis really believes our economy has “momentum and forward movement,” it is my sincere hope that he is simply uninformed or misinformed about these statistics. Because if he is aware, we can only conclude that he is something else that is worse than being merely ignorant.
- David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://bobw7.sg-host.com/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Spirit expands in Wichita. Available at https://bobw7.sg-host.com/wichita-government/spirit-expands-wichita/. ↩
- Sedgwick County. RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE EXECUTION OF A MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WITH THE CITY OF WICHITA AND SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS, INC. RELATING TO PROJECT ECLIPSE. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3290907&GUID=E732A9A2-C01A-4ACE-B134-C15E551F989F. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed. Available at https://bobw7.sg-host.com/wichita-government/cargill-incentives-from-wichita-detailed/. ↩