By John Todd.
In May 2009 the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition pressured the Sedgwick County Commission to purchase roughly 808 acres of land from the city of Bel Aire. GWEDC cited the pressing economic need for “shovel-ready” industrial development land. Fortunately, for the taxpaying citizens of Sedgwick County, this land purchase transaction was never completed. (See Sedgwick County needs to slow down, deliberate land purchase.)
In his annual report to the Sedgwick County Commission on Wednesday, Michael Borchard, the Sedgwick County Appraiser, reported that during 2009, a total of 701,519 square feet or 16.1 acres of industrial property was added to the tax rolls. Based on the 2009 absorption rate for industrial property, the 808 acres of land would have been sufficient for over 50 years of future industrial development. This is assuming the Bel Aire land location was successful in obtaining every single industrial land transaction each year.
This, to me, is a clear indication that the Sedgwick County staff and the GWEDC officials involved in the 808 acre proposed land transaction were trying to involve our county in a speculative land venture that was beyond their area of expertise.
I have been hearing rumblings again that GWEDC will be pressuring our county officials into another speculative land deal in the near future in order to meet some perceived as well as speculative economic development need. I believe it is time to cut the Sedgwick County taxpayer funding to GWEDC. The citizens of this county would be better served by letting the private sector market provide the land and locations needed for future Industrial development. Speculative land development is not a proper role for government. The Sedgwick County Commission does not need the pressure that GWEDC and the news media puts them under every time some real or perceived prospect shows up, usually wanting free land with massive taxpayer subsidies attached to the deal.
Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita are financially supporting GWEDC with very little results. The City and the County do have economic development offices that are already doing the same work. The Chamber should provide their own funding from the local corporations that are interested in recruiting and training efforts. We have had some leaders in GWEDC that have voted for incentives for businesses that they were already representing and benefited financially from the taxpayer funded incentives.