Yesterday Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting presented “Destination ICT.” This is a program designed to “attract and retain talent to Wichita.” It’s sponsored by Young Professionals of Wichita which is an initiative of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.
In her talk, Ryan presented evidence that knowledge workers are highly concentrated, and that a relatively small proportion of workers create much of the economic output. “Some workers have a higher economic impact on an economy than other workers.” She said that Wichita must continue to invest in knowledge-based jobs and knowledge-based occupations.
She said that Wichita employers say that they need 3,000 professional workers over the next six to eight years. But 23 percent of the people Ryan surveyed said they are leaving Wichita in the next four years. She said this would cost Wichita $610 million over the next four years.
Ryan said Wichita needs to use “intentional design” in which we design an ICT that “people are homesick for.”
Ryan presented the seven indexes of a “next city” — referring to attributes, attitudes, and amenities that the “next generation” will get excited about. These are:
- Cost of lifestyle. Can I afford to live here?
- Earning opportunities. Many families or couples who locate to a town require two jobs.
- Vitality. Is this a community that invests in parks, trails, and recreation?
- Learning. This refers to career education for professionals as well as the K-12 public school system.
- Around town. This refers both to in-town mobility as well as things like the number of flights.
- Social capital. Does everyone feel they have a stake and a say in the community? Voting rates and crime count here.
- After hours. What is there to do after work and on weekends?
Ryan showed a chart, based on a survey of Wichitans, that showed “value vs. perception,” that is, how do Wichitans feel about these indexes as compared to their measured values? Consistently, Wichitans’ perception was lower than the reality.
Wichita scores well in cost of lifestyle. Wichita scored low in “around town.” Wichita also scored low in earning opportunities. In other categories, Wichita scored about the same as its group of peer cities, which for the purposes of this analysis are Denver, Raleigh, Lexington, Kansas City, Omaha, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Chattanooga, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, and Richmond.
Ryan said that Wichita’s low cost of lifestyle is “a key strength that can be leveraged, particularly in efforts to attract and retain Millennials who are in their early years of earning.”
Ryan said we need to connect people to Wichita’s career opportunities. She showed two examples — ColumbusTalent.com in Columbus, Indiana, and SmartCareerMove.com in Iowa — of cities or regions that have done this. Also, she said we need to feature employers on high-traffic websites. A “robust internship culture” is valuable, too.
She also recommended that we make Wichita a more attractive place to work and play, and that is sustainable. She mentioned — as do the downtown Wichita planners — “connectedness.” A quote from a survey participant is “There are parks [in Wichita], but there’s no way to get from one to another … there are no arteries linking the green spaces.” She said that Wichita should have many more miles of bike paths. Our bus transit system is a problem, too, as it takes a very long time to get from one place to another on a bus. She recommended a grid system rather than a hub system as Wichita presently uses.
Wichitans also needs to convince themselves that Wichita is a great place to live. She said that most people don’t realize Wichita is as large in population as it is.
She recommended a centralized place for finding information about Wichita such as events. She used OnMilwaukee.com as an example of such a site, noting that Wichita’s UploadWichita.com has not been updated frequently.
She said that we need to make sure that what people are saying about our community matches the reality. Two-thirds of the people who have moved away from Wichita have thought about coming back. These are the “convinceables,” she said.
She recommended that if people care about downtown, they should attend Saturday’s design charrette.
Wichita’s advantage of low cost of lifestyle (is this different from a low cost of living?) is something that we must work to maintain. Actions by Wichita’s city council such as the creation of TIF districts make the burden of paying for government more expensive for everyone in the city except those in the TIF district. Other misguided economic development policies such as tax abatements make it more expensive for everyone but the recipient of the incentive.
The emphasis on bicycle paths is misplaced. A recent visitor to Wichita, Randal O’Toole, said that bicycle paths are not nearly as useful as city streets for serious commuting and traveling by bicycle.
With regard to public schools, Wichita is falling behind the rest of the country in educational freedom. Our charter school law gives local boards of education total control over the formation of charter schools, and as a result, there are very few in Kansas. Furthermore, we have no school choice through vouchers or tax credits. Many cities and states are using these programs to implement choice — rather than government monopoly — in education. Wichita lags far behind in this regard. School choice programs, by the way, could be implemented quickly at very low cost, and in fact, could save money.
Ryan’s promotion of the downtown planning process shows a reliance on centralized government planning. This means a loss of economic freedom for Wichitans, as those who chose not to live downtown will subsidize those who do. Reliance on government planning means that more economic activity in Wichita will be controlled by bureaucrats and politicians. These classes of people have motivations different from entrepreneurs, who must meet the demands of consumers or go out of business. Bureaucrats, especially, do not face such a stern taskmaster.
I was also troubled by other reliance on government recommended by Ryan. The parks system — which suffers, according to Ryan, from a lack of connectedness — is a creation of government. So here’s an example of a large government program that has produced something other than what is needed, or at least is not optimal. Now Wichita has a new and ambitious program to create a new generation of parks. But what makes us think that the current generation of parks planners can do better than the past?
Reliance on websites as a way to distribute information and build community in Wichita has been problematic. Ryan noted UploadWichita.com as an example. Its most most recent story is from July 2008, and the most recently uploaded photo is from March 2009.
More recent efforts by government-sponsored enterprises to promote the city through online efforts are sputtering, too. The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation’s blog — ironically titled Momentum — hasn’t had a fresh post since December 17, even though Wichita is in an intense period of downtown planning.
There are some efforts such as RokICT and Naked City Wichita that promote events in Wichita. Both sites seem to be in transition at the moment, however, and are not the fresh and copious sources of information that they once were.