Change in needed in Wichita

A version of this op-ed by John Todd appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

John Todd, American PatriotChange is desperately needed in Wichita — change to allow exceptionalism and end failed economic subsidies.

Once again, several of the favored downtown development group partners have lined up outside City Hall with outstretched palms to receive prime city owned Arkansas River corridor land for bargain basement prices layered with generous incentives.

I heartily support private real estate development downtown and across Wichita. It creates jobs, enhances quality of life, expands the tax base and provides economic uplift. However, projects involving generous taxpayer funded “economic development” incentive handouts transfer the risk and tax burden from developers back to taxpayers who rarely realize any direct benefits from the projects.

The downtown WaterWalk project essentially gave away 20 acres of prime city owned land with a reported $41 million incentive package that included diverting tax revenue to the developer with unknown benefits to taxpayers. Compare this with the Waterfront development at 13th and Webb Road that received no subsidy and generates an estimated $2.5 million in annual tax revenues for the public treasury.

To paraphrase a thought attributed to several authors: “A Democracy cannot survive as a permanent form of government, because, when people discover they can vote money for themselves out of the public treasury, they will bankrupt it.”

I believe it is time for the citizens of Wichita to move forward by putting a new marketing program in place titled, “Capitalizing on Exceptionalism: A New Chapter in Wichita.”

To make it work, we must enlist the support of key, wealth producing, connected people of influence in our community as well as the everyday hard working citizen entrepreneurs and craftsmen, and provide the marketing forum for them to recognize and realize that Wichita can be exceptional, and that we don’t have to embrace a “follow the herd” mentality that will lead us to economic destruction and mediocrity.

We must change the “entitlement” mentality that permeates the social and the business segments of our whole country, starting in particular with our own community. Wichita can become the exceptional example of economic prosperity others will strive to emulate.

If we can move away from the entitlement attitude and get government out of the way, our private sector entrepreneurs and craftsmen can match anyone in the country; and all of this can be achieved by rejecting the corporate welfare trap we have fallen into.

John Todd
Wichita


2 thoughts on “Change in needed in Wichita”

  1. In 1993 I joined the U.S Air Force. I shipped out from Wichita, Kansas and ended up being stationed at Offutt, AFB in Omaha, Nebraska. At that time, both cities had a military base, both cities had between 300 and 400 thousand residents, no professional sports teams, no major college teams (UNL is in Lincoln), a decent business base (Omaha was IT focused, Wichita was aircraft focused) and numerous other similarities.

    Fast forward 10 years to 2003 when my family and I moved back to Wichita for my job at Koch Industries. What had changed in 10 years? Omaha was expanding like crazy. New businesses, more jobs, lots of construction and expansion. The population was pushing 500,000 and nearing a million in the surrounding area. New companies were moving there and old companies were digging in and expanding.

    In Wichita, the population had hardly changed. The aircraft industry was struggling and jobs and people were leaving. The city council and their select developers (for up north) were doing great, while the city stagnated. No new businesses to speak of, no new venues of note, nothing. Its like Wichita was frozen in time.

    How can two cities that were so much alike in the early 90s be so different now? Our city council and their short sighted, self interested planning, that’s how. Disjointed downtown development focuses on greasing palms and filling campaign coffers over bringing real growth and prosperity to downtown.

    We have our share of big businesses in Wichita and there is no reason we can not turn this thing around. Place like Koch, Cargill, NetApps and some of the remaining aircraft businesses should be working with the city to find mutually beneficial plans to expand and grow their businesses, increasing our job base and attracting new investment, entertainment and new businesses.

    This doesn’t mean raise taxes on the the locals and hand the funds over to the businesses and let them leave. Its a real plans that benefit the city and its inhabitants as well as the businesses that remain here. Its not free tax giveaways and plans that have no metrics or realistic financials. Its good, solid fiscal planning and investments of the tax payer dollars that produce real, positive returns.

    Wichita and it voters need to stop voting in popularity contests and start voting on the issues and the people with the track record and courage to do the things that need to be done to bring our prosperity levels up to those of Omaha and Oklahoma City. If the voters don’t start doing this, we will lose our good talent and jobs to those cities or others, who are thinking about the city first and not about lining their own pockets.

    Its too bad that when good people speak up about this, their sound ideas are drowned out, by some media driven red herring that has folks talking about gossip and trivial matters, while the current powers that be, keep starving the city for their own self benefit.

  2. “Koch, Cargill, NetApps and some of the remaining aircraft businesses should be working with the city to find mutually beneficial plans to expand and grow their businesses, increasing our job base and attracting new investment, entertainment and new businesses. ”

    Doug, what makes you think the businesses you cite haven’t been trying to find ways to to expand and grow their businesses? If you will take the time to do your own independent research and not soak up the Bob Weeks propoganda machine, you will find that they have. Furthermore, it appears that you assume that industry in Omaha and Wichita were similar enough that their economies should have reacted similarly to global economic conditions except for failed local governmental policies. I don’t believe that is necessarily the case.

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