Wichita metropolitan area population in context


The growth of population in Wichita compared to other areas.

Several Wichita city officials have noted that the population of the City of Wichita now exceeds that of Cleveland. This, to them, is a point of pride and sign of momentum in Wichita.

It’s true, at least the population facts. For 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population of Wichita as 389,902 and Cleveland as 385,809. From the 2010 census, Wichita’s population was 382,368; Cleveland’s 396,815. 1

That Wichita moved up in population rank is more due to Cleveland losing 11,006 people (2.8 percent loss) while Wichita gained 7,534 people (2.0 percent gain).

Looking only at city population, however, misses the fact that the Cleveland metropolitan statistical area population is 2,058,844 compared to the Wichita MSA at 645,628, a difference of 3.2 times.

For most types of economic and demographic analysis, metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) are preferred to cities proper. The Census Bureau notes: “The general concept of a metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area is that of a core area containing a substantial population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core.” 2

Wichita officials usually recognize this and have started to emphasize the importance of the region (the MSA), not just the city. Many of our civic agencies have named or renamed themselves like these examples: Greater Wichita Partnership, Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth, Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Wichita Area Planning Organization, Regional Economic Area Partnership of South Central Kansas, South Central Kansas Economic Development District.

Further, there is more economic data available at the MSA level (compared to the city level) from agencies like Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. This data includes important measures like employment, labor force, unemployment rate, gross domestic product, and personal income.

City boundaries are still important, as Wichita, for example, can’t impose property or sales taxes outside the city limits. Nor can it write laws affecting neighboring towns or the county.

But not even schools respect city boundaries, with several large suburban school districts (Andover, Maize, Goddard) reaching far into the city limits of Wichita.

While Wichita may be the 50th largest city, its rank is not as high when considering metropolitan areas. Worse, its rank is slipping as other areas grow at a faster clip. In the 1990 and 2000 census, Wichita was the 80th largest metro area. By 2010 Wichita’s rank had fallen to 82, and for 2017 the rank is 89.

Growth of Wichita MSA population and economy

Wichita officials incessantly talk about momentum. Using a misguided measure of regional size and growth (Wichita is larger than Cleveland!) is one example.

Unfortunately, there are many other examples. Recently Wichita’s mayor spoke of a “thriving city” and that “we’re going to continue our growth pattern.” 3

Recently Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr told a group of young people this:

From the innovation campus at Wichita State University and development along the Arkansas River in downtown, including a new baseball stadium, to the conversations happening now about a new convention center and performing arts facility, Fluhr said the momentum is pushing to keep Wichita on par with the development of other communities around the country.

That development, which has in recent years expanded to incorporate the entire region, is a critical component to attracting and retaining talent — the exact kind of talent in the ICT Millennial Summit crowd. 4

In January Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said, “It’s hard to find a time when we’ve had more momentum.” 5

In announcing his candidacy for Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita city council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said, “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.” 6

But these pictures — thriving, growth, progress, momentum — just aren’t true, according to the best statistical evidence. Wichita is shedding jobs. 7 In 2016 the Wichita economy shrank. 8 Our labor force is declining. 9 Sedgwick County shows a decline in employees and payroll in 2016. 10

Finally, as can be seen in the nearby chart of population growth in the Wichita metro area and a few other examples. Wichita’s growth rate is low, and is slowing. (The other metro areas in the chart are our Visioneering peers plus a few others.)

It is terribly unfortunate that the Wichita economy is not growing. What’s worse is the attitude of our city leaders. If we don’t confront our problems, we probably won’t be able to solve them.

In an interactive visualization I’ve prepared from census data, you can compare growth in metropolitan statistical areas. Click here to access the visualization.

Wichita and other population growth. Click for larger.


  1. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places of 50,000 or More, Ranked by July 1, 2016 Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. Release Date: May 2017
  2. Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/metro-micro/about.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob Mayor Longwell’s pep talk. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/politics/mayor-longwells-pep-talk/.
  4. Daniel McCoy. ICT Millennial Summit: Wichita is having a moment. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/11/30/ict-millennial-summit-wichita-is-having-a-moment.html.
  5. Heck, Josh. Emerging Leaders panel offers insight into eco-devo strategies. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/01/11/emerging-leaders-panel-offers-insight-into-eco.html.
  6. Bill Wilson. Wichita council member unveils bid for county commission. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/02/13/wichita-council-member-unveils-bid-for-county.html.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita unemployment rate falls. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-unemployment-rate-falls-2018-03/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Why Wichita may not have the workforce. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/why-wichita-may-not-have-the-workforce/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Business patterns in Kansas counties. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/business-patterns-in-kansas-counties/.


One response to “Wichita metropolitan area population in context”

  1. Johnny Stevens

    Great article Bob. As usual, you have explained the problem very accurately and very simple.
    The big question, how do we grow Wichita, the only answer our politicians have is to spend money or give away incentives. All these incentives such as Star Bond projects are just cannibalizing revenue from existing businesses. It is not growing the pie.

    We are growing at 1/3rd of 1% and our politicians think they are doing a good job. Not one of them is even talking about how we can do better. If we hit a recession we will lose population.

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