First, a local company will come to the Wichita City Council asking for a property tax exemption. This is not unusual, as it happens almost every week, and multiple times at some meetings. In this case, we learn that estimates of job creation used to support an economic development incentive weren’t realistic.
The company, MoJack, had received a forgivable loan from Wichita and Sedgwick County based on promises to create a certain number of jobs. The loan amount was $35,000 from each, for a total of $70,000. If MoJack meets the job and payroll targets, the loan will be forgiven.
But we learn in city materials this week that there’s been a change: “As a result of this expansion, Mojack plans to add at least 26 new employees to its workforce at a starting average wage of $44,000. In June 2012, Mojack repaid the forgivable loan because it had been based on an earlier estimate that 53 new jobs would be created, which was not realistic.” (The agenda report may be read at Public Hearing and Tax Exemption Request (Mojack Holdings, LLC/Mojack Distributors, LLC).)
In June, MoJack repaid its forgivable loan to Sedgwick County, presumably for the same reasons.
While city officials say they conduct due diligence before granting economic development incentives, the reality is that economic development officials have to work with whatever figures the applicant companies provide. How can the city verify the projected growth of a company? We wouldn’t want to even give that a try.
What’s important is this: Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition is our economic development agency. In their annual report of their activities, they took credit for the MoJack jobs. Now that the number of jobs to be created is expected to be smaller, will GWEDC update its job creation figures?
Also, MoJack participated in several economic development incentives from the state of Kansas. Hopefully the Kansas Department of Commerce will consider the new, revised employment projects with managing its incentive awards, and will also update its claims of job creation accordingly.
We also learned this week that Hawker Beechcraft may not be meeting its agreed-upon employment levels required to continue to receive incentives from the state, Sedgwick County, and City of Wichita.
In Wichita Business Journal reporting we learn the numbers:
Hawker Beechcraft Corp. appears to be close to violating an agreement with state and local governments to maintain employment of at least 4,000 workers in Wichita.
The company has declined to discuss its employment level in detail and as recently as last week told the Wichita Business Journal that it had employment of 4,500 workers, the same number it reported to the WBJ in March.
However, according to a database of mass layoffs maintained by the Kansas Department of Commerce, from March to June this year Hawker issued 885 60-day layoff notices to Wichita employees. And since late July it has filed layoff notices for 56 more Wichita workers.
All told, that’s 941 layoff notices since March. If all those job cuts have taken place, and the 4,500 number was accurate in March, that would suggest a current employment level of 3,559 in Wichita, based solely on layoffs and not assuming any potential attrition or, on the other hand, new hires.
The article explains that while the official job count for agreement compliance purposes is taken at the end of the year, Hawker is not forthcoming with information about its employment levels. While it is not required to answer WBJ’s questions about its job count, we should remember that we have a public-private partnership with Hawker, under which taxpayers will be investing millions in the company. Wichita economic development leaders tout the public-private partnership as a powerful tool.
By taking our money and entering in a partnership, Hawker ought to be more forthcoming with legitimate information requests. Failure to do so is not polite, even if it is not required.
There’s also this question: When Hawker releases its employment figures, will GWEDC adjust its success story to reflect the likely lower number of jobs? If we’re to have an economic development effort that’s based on factual information, GWEDC should. But based on past history, I doubt it will. Therefore, we continue to make decisions based on incomplete data and facts.
By the way, the Hawker Beechcraft campus is outside the city limits of Wichita. By what authority does the city give it Wichita taxpayers’ money?