For 2016, personal income in Wichita rose, but is still below 2014 levels.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, has released personal income figures for metropolitan areas through 2016. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016.
The trend in personal income mirrors that of the Wichita-area GDP, which is the value of goods and services produced. That fell in 2016. 1
To access an interactive visualization of personal income for all metropolitan areas, click here.
Employment in the Wichita metropolitan area is on an upward tick.
Using seasonally-adjusted figures, employment in the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area 1 was 294,800 in January 2017. For September, it is 302,700, an increase of 7,900, or 2.7 percent. This data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor. 2
The employment data comes from the BLS Current Employment Statistics program, which surveys employers. 3
BLS also collects data regarding employment and unemployment through the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 4 It is part of the Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a “monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” 5 This data is collected from a survey of households, and the monthly data is not adjusted for seasonality. This is the data series that produces the oft-cited unemployment rate.
It’s important to understand the nature of the unemployment rate. Being a ratio, it has two moving parts, specifically the number of unemployed people and the number of people in the labor force. (The labor force, broadly, is the number of persons working plus those actively looking for work.
It is possible that the unemployment rate falls while the number of people employed falls or rises slowly. This is the general trend in Wichita for the past seven years or so. The nearby table illustrates this. Because the values in this data series are not adjusted for seasonality, I use the average of the proceeding 12 months.
In the first example, the unemployment rate fell by nearly half for the time period chosen. (2010 was the first full year after the most recent recession ended.) That improvement was produced by a small increase in the number of employed people and a large decline in the labor force. Is our area better off for this? Local politicians and bureaucrats seem to think so, as the low unemployment rate is widely cited as a measure of their success in managing the local economy.
The second example uses as its starting point 2008, which was the high mark for employment in the Wichita MSA. The unemployment rate then is nearly the same as today. But both the labor force and the number of employed persons is down.
If we consider only the unemployment rate, it looks like the Wichita area is prospering. But the unemployment rate hides bad news.
In the nearby chart you can see these effects. The unemployment rate has been declining, although it has recently increased slightly. The labor force has been declining. The number of employed persons has increased, although it has also recently declined.
The labor force, specifically the civilian labor force, are those people working, plus those people actively searching for work, minus people under 16 years of age, minus people living in institutions (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), minus people on active duty in the Armed Forces.
BLS defines unemployed people as: “Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.”
The unemployment rate is “the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.”
Bureau of Labor Statistics. *Glossary.* Available at https://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm. ↩
“The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: The Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.
Both surveys are needed for a complete picture of the labor market.
The payroll survey (CES) is designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings in the nonfarm sector, with industry and geographic detail. The survey is best known for providing a highly reliable gauge of monthly change in nonfarm payroll employment. A representative sample of businesses in the U.S. provides the data for the payroll survey.
The household survey (CPS) is designed to measure the labor force status of the civilian noninstitutional population with demographic detail. The national unemployment rate is the best-known statistic produced from the household survey. The survey also provides a measure of employed people, one that includes agricultural workers and the self-employed. A representative sample of U.S. households provides the information for the household survey.
National employment estimates from both the household and payroll surveys are published in the Employment Situation news release each month. The estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparing employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys. Available at https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ces_cps_trends.htm. ↩
Wichita decides to have someone else conduct public engagement.
At the November 7, 2017 meeting of the Wichita City Council, the council will be asked to approve a request for proposal (RFP) document relating to Century II.
The RFP is a document that spells out what the city wants done relating to public engagement regarding the future of Century II. Specifically, interested parties are invited to “design and implement a transparent public engagement process that involves a broad cross-section of Wichita residents in a discussion of interests related to the future of Century II as a performing arts center.”
A “Screening and Selection Panel” selected by the Wichita city manager will evaluate the proposals based on several criteria and select a winner.
The introduction to the RFP states: “The primary purpose of this engagement is to identify the community’s interests and recommendations related to Century II as a performing arts center, to include the option of its removal and replacement, as well as its relationship to the convention center, both in function and spatial proximity.” No cost ceiling is given by the city.
Of note, the schedule in the RFP gives November 3 as the due date for proposals. But it is four days after that, on November 7, that the city council will be asked to, according to city documents, “approve the scope of services and amendment for the Request for Proposals.”
While some may criticize the city for relying on an outside consultant to conduct public engagement, the reason given is a recommendation by the city manager that the process be “be led by an independent third party to ensure neutral framing of the issues.”
That makes a lot of sense, as Wichita doesn’t have a good track record in this regard. For example, in even-numbered years the city has surveyed residents asking them to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart created from data found in versions of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question.
The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey, the group that conducted the survey for the city.
There’s also the 2014 city sales tax election, where the city was proud of its engagement with citizens, convincing them of the need for the tax. On election day, 62 percent voted against the tax.
Wichitans might be surprised to learn the cost of cultural attractions.
The price of adult admission to the Wichita Art Museum is $7.00, or free on Saturdays thanks to the generosity of Colby Sandlian, a Wichita businessman.
But the cost of admission is much higher. For 2016, Wichita city documents report a cost per visitor of $54.71. That was down from the previous year’s cost of $55.37.
The cost per visitor figures the city reports each year are presented in a nearby table. For each year the city reports the cost per visitor along with a target for the next years. In the nearby chart, the target values are represented by dotted lines of the same color as the actual cost.
We should note that for these attractions much of their costs are fixed, meaning they do not vary with the number of visitors. An example is the employment cost of a museum director. As the number of visitors rises or falls, the salary stays the same. This means that if attendance increased, the cost per visitor would fall, and fall dramatically. (Of course, if attendance really boomed, the museum might need more directors. But that’s a long term decision.)
The source of this data is Wichita city budgets and performance reports. All are available on the city’s website at wichita.gov.
Wichita economic development officials use a circuitous method of estimating the population of downtown Wichita, producing a number much higher than Census Bureau estimates.
Recently the Wichita Business Journal reported:
Getting more people to live in the core was clearly one of the most important tasks for the city. Back in 2010, the report said downtown Wichita was ripe for an additional 1,000 housing units.
That goal seems to have been met. According to a recent report from the group Downtown Wichita, 835 residential units have been completed since 2010. An additional 742 units are in development downtown, where about 2,100 people live today. 1
The report referred to is the 2017 State of Downtown Report. 2 While this report highlights the number of people living in downtown Wichita, it no longer reports the number of people working in downtown. 3
How does Downtown Wichita arrive at the number of residents in downtown? An endnote from the report gives the details:
The 2010 U.S. Census states the population in the 67202 area code is 1,393. Per Downtown Wichita records, 702 units rental units have opened in the Downtown SSMID district since 2010 when the Census was taken. Per data provided directly from the Downtown residential rental properties, the absorption rates of the market rate units has an average of 85%. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, the average size of renter-occupied units is 1.25 persons. Therefore, an estimate for the current population is 2,138. 4
What DW has done is to take a reliable figure (the 2010 decennial census) and extrapolate forward to 2016. (Presumably 2016, as the report doesn’t say.)
But there are a few issues, as follows:
First, the calculation includes 702 rental units that have opened since 2010. Have any rental units closed since then? That would be good to know. Curious is that the report prominently mentions “835 units completed since 2010.” There have been condominiums that have opened since 2010. Why would DW use only rental units in its calculation?
Second, the DW calculation makes use of two estimates, absorption rate 5 and size of renter-occupied units. (What about size of owner-occupied units?) Each of these is an estimate that has its own error probabilities, and those errors compound when multiplied.
Third, there is no need to go through this roundabout calculation, as the Census Bureau has provided an estimate for the population of downtown in 2015. Data from the American Community Survey 6 estimates that the population in downtown Wichita for 2015 was 1,438, with a 90 percent confidence interval of plus or minus 242. 7 This means the Census Bureau is confident the population of downtown Wichita in 2015 was in the range of 1,196 to 1,680, that confidence factor being 90 percent.
But DW says the population of downtown is 2,138, which is far — really far — outside the range the Census Bureau gives for the 2015 population. While DW’s population estimate is probably for 2016, it still lies far outside the range of probability, based on Census Bureau estimates.
It’s really curious that DW doesn’t use the Census Bureau estimate of population. That population estimate comes directly from the Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for 2011 to 2015. DW didn’t use that number, but it relied on the same body of data to get “average size of renter-occupied units” for 2015.
Why would DW use the Census Bureau for one datum but not another, especially when the Census Bureau data reports the statistic DW is trying on its own to estimate in a roundabout manner?
It’s simple. DW’s calculations produce 2,138 people living in downtown. The Census Bureau estimate is a much smaller number: 1,438.
By the way, DW’s calculations start with the 2010 Census Bureau population for downtown. Of the downtown population of 1,393 that year, 253 were men living in institutions like the Kansas Department of Corrections Wichita Work Release facility at Emporia and Waterman Streets. It has a capacity of 250. 8
“Absorption is the amount of space or units leased within a market or submarket over a given period of time (usually one year). Absorption considers both construction of new space and demolition or removal from the market of existing space.” Institute of Real Estate Management. Calculating Absorption. Available at https://www.irem.org/education/learning-toolbox/calculating-absorption. ↩
U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates ↩
Previous versions of the report prominently mentioned the number of daytime workers in downtown Wichita. 3The number most often given was 26,000. But that number is missing from this year’s report. Unless I overlooked it, there is no mention of the number of workers in downtown Wichita.
Why was this number omitted from this year’s report? Earlier this year I found out that the U.S. Census Bureau data series which was the source of this statistic is not a valid measure of the number of people working downtown. That’s because the series counts all the employees of the Wichita public school district as downtown workers solely because the district’s headquarters building is downtown.4 This means the statistic is not valid and meaningful, because most school workers don’t work at the downtown building. Instead, they’re working in schools and other facilities dispersed throughout the district. A similar anomaly exists for Wichita city workers: All are counted as though they work in the city hall building. 5
When I asked Jeff Fluhr, the president of Downtown Wichita, about this he referred my question to Jeremy Hill, the Director of Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. This was — seemingly — reasonable as CEDBR supplied the number to Fluhr’s organization. Hill’s response was unsatisfactory in resolving the issue. In conclusion, Hill wrote to me: “Although the center systematically questions all data sources (federal, state, private, and nonprofit) for reasonableness, limited resources (e.g. time and costs) prevent us from validating and/or cross checking every statistic. In this situation, the center used the appropriate source for the research question and the total number of people estimated to work downtown was within reason.”
Here’s what concerns me. This data comes from a Census Bureau application called “OnTheMap.” When using the OnTheMap application for downtown Wichita, which is zip code 67202, there are two large bright blue dots that stand out from all others. These represent the two highest concentrations of workers in downtown Wichita. One is Census block 201730043001036, which has 7,740 employees. This is a one square block area from First to Second Streets, and Wichita to Water Streets. That block, for the year of this data, held the Wichita school district headquarters building.
7,740 employees is a lot. It’s about one-fourth of the total downtown employee count claimed by Downtown Wichita and CEDBR. It’s more employees than McConnell Air Force Base has, and about twice as many that work at Koch Industries in Wichita.
Importantly, this number is eleven times the number that work at Cargill, a company which Wichita is granting many millions of dollars in incentives just to retain the company in Wichita.
We just have to wonder: Didn’t anyone look at this data in a serious and critical manner? A quick glance at the data by CEDBR, much less “systematically” checking for “reasonableness” should have led to questions. A quick look by Downtown Wichita staff should have spurred these inquiries: Who do all these people work for in that one block? This is a wonderful success story! How can we replicate this great accomplishment in other blocks in downtown Wichita?
And didn’t anyone at the City of Wichita — council members and bureaucrats alike — wonder about these numbers?
That didn’t happen. Or maybe it did, and someone in authority nonetheless decided to proceed to use a statistic that doesn’t mean what city leaders say it means.
That’s why I wrote it was seemingly reasonable for Fluhr to refer me to CEDBR with my questions about the data. In retrospect, it is clear this is a multi-year episode of incompetence, ineptitude, or dishonesty.
But at least this statistic is no longer used.
I asked Cindy Claycomb, who is Chair of the Executive Committee of Downtown Wichita, about this. She replied that all data sources are listed in the report, and that the board relies on the expertise of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation staff to decide what is presented in each year’s report. She said Jeff Fluhr was the best person to address my concerns. He, as we saw, demurred to CEDBR at WSU.
(By the way, Claycomb is nearly certain to be elected to the Wichita City Council in November. Jeff Fluhr is now, besides president of Downtown Wichita, also president of Greater Wichita Partnership, the new organization regional governments rely on for economic development.)
So: How many jobs are in downtown Wichita? There is another series of census data that is better, but not perfect, as it counts private-sector employees only. That data shows 13,581 workers in downtown Wichita for 2015. 6 But what’s remarkable — and disappointing — about this data series is its trend: It’s going down. The recent peak was 16,658 workers in 2008. By 2015 that number was down by 18 percent. (Again, these are private sector workers only.)
The Wichita city council will consider an item that, I believe, is of sufficient interest and controversial enough that it should appear on a regular agenda, not a consent agenda.
Update: at Tuesday’s meeting, the council passed the consent agenda without discussion of this agenda item.
Meetings of governmental bodies like the Wichita City Council may contain a consent agenda. That’s a collection of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, and it may hold two dozen or more items. If no council member asks to pull an item, there is no discussion.
Tomorrow the Wichita city council will consider an item that, I believe, is of sufficient interest and possibly controversial enough that it should appear on a regular agenda, not a consent agenda. It involves the hiring of a consultant to help the city find a baseball team. 1
Tomorrow’s meeting, being on the fourth Tuesday of a month, is traditionally for consent agenda items only, plus workshops. But the council has, a few times, declared this meeting to be a “regular” meeting in order to conduct business other than consent agenda items.
The Wichita city council has a history of placing controversial items on the consent agenda. It has, at least once, removed an item from the consent agenda to place it on a regular agenda. 2 There are some things the council doesn’t want to talk about.
In addition, Current Mayor Jeff Longwell has wondered if the city holds too many public hearings. 3 Some things, the mayor feels, don’t need public input.
Wichita considers hiring a consultant to help find a baseball team.
In August the Wichita Eagle reported:
Wichitans can hope for an announcement on a new affiliated baseball team coming to Wichita by the end of 2017, Mayor Jeff Longwell says.
“By the end of this calendar year, we feel confident that we will be able to announce a team, who the team is, all of the above,” Longwell told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon. “We hope that we can complete all of those conversations by the end of this year and be able to announce a contract in place.” 1
Evidently the mayor and the city are feeling less confident. Next week’s city council agenda includes a proposal to hire a consulting firm to help the city. The contract the council will consider states: “Wichita desires to retain Beacon Sports as its advisor and exclusive representative for the Assignment, and perform such other advisory services as are mutually agreed upon between the two parties.” 2
The city’s analysis advises: “Based on the encouraging findings, City staff have reached the conclusion that, due to Minor League Baseball (MiLB) rules and protocols, it is necessary to formally contract with a specialized baseball consultant.”
The contract has a cap of $50,000. For this, the contract states, “Beacon Sports will use its best efforts and endeavor to assist Wichita in obtaining and having present to it qualified offers on terms that are acceptable to Wichita, but makes no representation regarding the successful outcome of this Assignment.”
Of note, this item appears on the consent agenda. That’s a collection of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, and it may hold two dozen or more items.
A letter writer tells Wichitans that “We have an opportunity to show the country the future of Wichita is youthful and bright, and its growing from the core out.”
In support of replacing Century II with something “no less than absolutely spectacular in ambition,” a letter in the Wichita Eagle states, “We have an opportunity to show the country the future of Wichita is youthful and bright, and its growing from the core out.” 1
Sadly, these observations are not true. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the median age of Wichitans is rising, the proportion of the population in the millennial category is static or shrinking slightly, and the proportion that are senior citizens is rising. Wichita is growing older, not younger.
As far as “growing from the core out,” the downtown population is up. Although: The increase from 2010 to 2015, proportional to the entire city, was only slightly greater. In 2010, 0.36 percent of Wichitans lived in downtown, rising only slightly to 0.37 percent in 2015. (These are Census figures for zip code 67202, which is downtown Wichita.)
If we gauge growth by the number of jobs, business establishments, and payroll in downtown, we find that downtown Wichita is shrinking. There is some controversy regarding how to measure the number of jobs in downtown Wichita, but by any measure, the number of jobs is declining. 23
Source of data is Wichita Downtown Development Corporation: State of Downtown Report for 2016 and 2012 Downtown Economic report, plus author’s calculations. Click tables and charts for larger versions.
As can be seen in the nearby charts, the number of jobs has been on a mostly downhill trend.
There is, however a serious problem with this data series, as it includes workers whose “administrative home” is downtown, even though they work somewhere else. The Census Bureau makes this caveat clear to users of this data. 2 Because all Wichita school district employees have an “address” of 201 N. Water in downtown Wichita, they appear in the LODES data series as employees with that address.
It is a serious mistake to count all Wichita school district employees as downtown workers. Most school employees work in schools and other sites scattered throughout the city, not in downtown. Further, this year the school district moved its administrative offices to the former Southeast High School building at Lincoln and Edgemoor. That’s in zip code 67218, not 67202. The effect of this on the LODES statistics (it will appear that some 7,000 workers have moved out of downtown Wichita) probably won’t appear for two or three years.
Even if we use the data series promoted by the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, the trend in jobs is in the wrong direction. WDDC promotes the large investment in downtown Wichita, by both private and public sources. 3 But employment is trending in the opposite direction. 4
But this data series is not useful as a measure of the number of people working in downtown Wichita, as it overstates the true number. The LODES data is widely cited by the City of Wichita and affiliated agencies such as WDDC and the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. 5 It appears prominently in the State of Downtown report produced by WDDC, generally released on May of each year. So far, there is no report for this year.
U.S. Census Bureau. LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics Data (2002-2015) [computer file ↩
Wichita economic development efforts viewed in context.
Greater Wichita Partnership is the organization with primary responsibility for economic development in the Wichita area. Data provided by GWP shows that since 2004, GWP takes credit for creating an average 1,847 jobs per year through its economic development efforts. 1
To determine whether this is an impressive amount, we need context.
Over the past ten years the labor force for the Wichita MSA has averaged 314,877 each month (in May 2017 it was 306,809), and there were an average of 295,785 people working each month (May 2017 value was 293,763).
So one level of context is that the jobs for which GWP credits itself amount to 1,847 of 295,785 jobs, or 0.6 percent of the number of people working.
Another way to look at this level of job creation is to consider it in relation to the number of hires. Over the past ten years, the national average monthly rate of hires is about 3.4 percent, meaning that each month 3.4 percent of jobs have a new person filling them, or the jobs are newly-created. With an average of 295,785 people working in the Wichita MSA each month, this means that about 10,057 jobs have a new worker, each month. That’s 120,684 per year. With GWP taking credit for 1,847 jobs, this means that GWP’s efforts are responsible for 1.5 percent of the new hires each year.
Another context: Employment in the Wichita MSA reached a peak of 312,100 in July 2008. In June 2017 it was 298,800. To get back to the peak, Wichita needs 13,300 new jobs. At the GWP rate of 1,847 per year, it will take seven more years to recover.
All this shows that the efforts of our economic development machinery are responsible for small proportions of the jobs we need to create. This assumes that the data regarding jobs and investment that GWP provides is correct.
Here’s one example of problems with the data GWP provides. GWP reported that companies made investments of $1.2 billion in 2016 when the average for years before that was $138 million. That looks like an impressive jump. This figure, however, contains over one billion dollars of investment by Spirit Aerosystems projected to occur over the next five years. Not in 2016, but possible over the next five years. Yet GWP presents this investment as through it occurred in 2016.
Furthermore, when Spirit asked the city for authority to issue $280 bonds over five years, it told the city this would result in 349 new jobs over the same time period. That’s creating jobs at the rate of 70 per year. These jobs are welcome, but we need thousands of jobs per year. 2
Does GWP deserve credit? GWP says, “We only incorporate data and dollar amounts from projects which we helped attract, retain or expand; we do not include announcements that we have not assisted with.” 3 “Helped” and “assisted” are not very precise. How much “help” did Spirit need to decide to remain in Wichita, except for hundreds of millions of dollars in forgiven taxes? That is something the people of Wichita pay for, not GWP.
We must also be concerned about the reliability of GWP statistics. Earlier this year GWP was prominently promoting on its website the success of NetApp, a technology company. The problem is that NetApp never met the job creation numbers GWP promoted, and in fact, had been downsizing its Wichita operations. 4
Still, GWP promoted NetApp as a success. An important question is, the NetApp jobs that were announced but never created: Are they included in the jobs and investment totals GWP provides? We don’t know, because GWP will not disclose the data used to build its report.
There are other instances of GWP’s predecessor, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition (GWEDC), promoting Wichita as home to companies that had closed their Wichita facilities, or were in the process of closing. 5
GWP also promotes this on its website: “Downtown Wichita is work central, boasting 26,000 daytime workers in the financial, healthcare, education, oil & gas and creative services industries.” This claim of 26,000 workers is based on blatant misuse and misrepresentation of U.S. Census data, and GWP leadership has known of this for several months. 6 Still, the use of incorrect data remains.
Capacity to create
When the Wichita area offered incentives to a company that planned to add 50 jobs, the president of the chamber of commerce told commissioners that staff worked very hard to acquire these jobs. He called it “a great moment” in economic development. 7 But 50 jobs, while welcome, is just a drop in the bucket compared to what Wichita needs.
For Spirit to create 349 jobs over five years, we must let the company escape paying property tax and sales tax on $280 million of property.
For BG Products to add 11 well-paying jobs, we must let them avoid paying $204,280 per year in property taxes and $368,417 in sales tax.
In order to prepare the incentives package for another company, several events took place. There was a visit to the company. Then another visit and tour. Then economic development officials helped the company apply for benefits from the Kansas Department of Commerce. Then these officials worked closely with Wichita city staff on an incentive package. City documents stated that the expansion will create 28 jobs over the next five years. Obtaining these jobs took a lot of effort from Wichita and Kansas economic development machinery. Multiple agencies and fleets of bureaucrats at GWEDC, the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, and the State of Kansas were involved. Wichita State University had to be involved. All this to create 5.6 jobs per year for five years.
This illustrates a capacity problem. Acquiring these jobs took a lot of bureaucratic effort, which has a cost. It required expensive incentives. Occasionally the city works with a large number of jobs, as in the recent case of Cargill. But those jobs required many expensive incentives, and no jobs were created. The incentives and effort were spent simply to persuade Cargill to remain in Wichita instead of moving elsewhere.
All this assumes, of course, that the incentives are necessary. Either that, or there is a larger problem. If companies can’t afford to make investments in Wichita unless they receive exemptions from paying taxes, we must conclude that taxes are too high. It’s either that, or these companies simply don’t want to participate in paying for the cost of government like most other companies and people do.
Civic leaders say that our economic development policies must be reformed. So far that isn’t happening. Our leaders say that we will no longer use cash incentives. But cash incentives like forgivable loans were a minor part of the incentives Wichita and the State of Kansas used. Furthermore, forgiveness of taxes is just as good as receiving cash. 8
The large amount of bureaucratic effort and cost spent to obtain relatively small numbers of jobs lets us know that we need to do something else to grow our local economy. We need to create a dynamic economy, focusing our efforts on creating an environment where growth can occur organically without management by government. Dr. Art Hall’s paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy provides much more information on the need for this. 9
In particular, Hall writes: “Embracing dynamism starts with a change in vision. Simply stated, the state government of Kansas should abandon its prevailing policy vision of the State as an active investor in businesses or industries and instead adopt the policy vision of the State as a caretaker of a competitive ‘platform’ — a platform that seeks to induce as much commercial experimentation as possible.” But our economic development policies are that of an “active investor,” and the cost of incentives increases the cost of experimentation.
Another thing we can do to help organically grow our economy and jobs is to reform our local regulatory regime.Kansas Policy Institute released a study of regulation and its impact at the state and local level. This is different from most investigations of regulation, as they usually focus on regulation at the federal level.
The study is titled “Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulation.” It was conducted by the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University. Click here to view the entire document.
Following is an excerpt from the introduction by James Franko, Vice President and Policy Director at Kansas Policy Institute. It points to a path forward.
Surprising to some, the businesses interviewed did not have as much of a problem with the regulations themselves, or the need for regulations, but with their application and enforcement. Across industries and focus group sessions the key themes were clear — give businesses transparency in what regulations are being applied, how they are employed, provide flexibility in meeting those goals, and allow an opportunity for compliance.
Sometimes things can be said so often as to lose their punch and become little more than the platitudes referenced above. The findings from Hugo Wall are clear that businesses will adapt and comply with regulations if they are transparent and accountable. Many in the public can be forgiven for thinking this was already the case. Thankfully, local and state governments can ensure this happens with minimal additional expense.
A transparent and accountable regulatory regime should be considered the “low hanging fruit” of government. Individuals and communities will always land on different places along the continuum of appropriate regulation. And, a give and take will always exist between regulators and the regulated. Those two truisms, however, should do nothing to undermine the need for regulations to be applied equally, based on clear rules and interpretations, and to give each business an opportunity to comply. (emphasis added)
Creating a dynamic economy and a reformed regulatory regime should cost very little. The benefits would apply to all companies — large or small, startup or established, local or relocations, in any industry.
Our civic leaders say that our economic development efforts must be reformed. Will the path forward be a dynamic economy and reformed regulation? Or will it be more bureaucracy, chasing jobs a handful at a time?
Greater Wichita Partnership – 2017 Investment Request. Part of the February 15, 2017 Sedgwick County Commission meeting. Available at https://goo.gl/hk6RHB. ↩
“Spirit is now requesting a new Letter of Intent (LOI) to issues IRBs in an amount not to exceed $280,000,000 for a period of five years. … Spirit projects it will create 349 new jobs over the next five years as a result of these expansions. In addition to the $280,000,000 Spirit expects to invest in facilities over the next five years, it also projects approximately $825,000,000 of capital investment in new machinery and equipment for a total capital investment in excess of $1 billion dollars.” Wichita City Council agenda packet for May 3, 2016. ↩
Personal correspondence from Andrew Nave, GWP executive vice president of economic development. ↩
Is it equitable for business firms to pay no sales tax, while low-income families pay sales tax on groceries?
Last week I wondered if the city’s agenda packet for economic development incentives proposed for BG Products was complete. 1 Since the city’s narrative had no mention of a sales tax exemption, but the accompanying ordinance that was passed authorized a sales tax exemption, I wondered if the analysis performed by the Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research was correct.
Now that I’ve received the document, it appears that CEDBR’s analysis properly included the cost of the sales tax exemption incentive. 2 The city’s narrative did not mention the sales tax exemption.
According to the CEDBR analysis, the sales tax exemption has a cost of $368,417. It is shared among the city, county and state, with 88 percent born by the state. 3
From a public policy perspective, we must wonder whether this incentive, and the other incentives BG Products received, are necessary for the company to proceed with its expansion in Wichita. The Industrial Revenue Bond program, which is the enabler of these incentives, does not require the applicant companies to demonstrate financial need. There are a few requirements, but none have to do with economic or financial necessity. 4
The State of Kansas applies the full sales tax rate to groceries, and is one of the few states to do this. 5 This tax disproportionally harms low-income families. 6 This is a problem in equity, in that business firms may request sales tax exemptions without showing need, while low-income families have no way to avoid the sales tax on their groceries.
From the analysis performed by the city by Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, these are the values of the sales tax incentives:
With the sales tax rate of 7.50%, this implies taxable spending of $4,912,227. ↩
“The percentage of taxes abated is based on capital investment and job creation. Majority of goods or services sold must be destined for customers outside of the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Company must pay average wages equal to or greater than the industry or Wichita MSA wage rate. City benefit/cost ration must be at least 1.3 to 1.” City of Wichita, Economic Development Incentives. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Economic/Pages/Incentives.aspx. ↩
The report produced for the City of Wichita on Century II has a disclaimer that absolves pretty much everyone from any accountability.
The document is titled “Funding and Delivery Options Analysis for the Century II Facility Expansion: Delivery and Funding Strategy.” It was produced by Arup Advisory Inc. at a cost to the city of $294,000. The entire document is available at https://goo.gl/hq9iqR.
Following is the disclaimer at the front of the report. It is typical of what is found in reports produced by economic development consultants. It establishes several large loopholes for Arup, the City of Wichita, and boosters of public spending on downtown like Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce.
Current accepted professional practices and procedures were used in the development of this report. However, as with any forecast, there may be differences between forecasted and actual results. The report contains reasonable assumptions, estimates, and projections that may not be indicative of actual or future values or events and are therefore subject to substantial uncertainty. Future developments cannot be predicted with certainty, and this may affect the estimates or projections expressed in this report, consequently Arup specifically does not guarantee or warrant any estimate or projections contained in this report.
This document is intended only for the information of the City. It is not intended for and should not be relied upon by any third party, and no responsibility is undertaken to any third party.
Our findings are based on limited technical, financial, and commercial data concerning the project and its potential delivery options. Arup has relied upon the reasonable assurances of independent parties and is not aware of any facts that would make such information misleading.
We must emphasize that the realization of any prospective financial information set out within our report is dependent on the continuing validity of the assumptions on which it is based. We accept no responsibility for the realization of the prospective financial information. Actual results are likely to be different from those shown in the prospective financial information because events and circumstances frequently do not occur as expected, and the differences may be material.
The Wichita Business Journal and the City of Wichita team to provide incorrect coverage and missing analysis.
Today the Wichita Business Journal reported: “An $11.5 million expansion of the Wichita operations of BG Products has been given the go-ahead. The Wichita City Council on Tuesday approved the expansion plan and issued industrial revenue bonds for the project.” 1
The problem with this reporting is that BG Products was not asking for the city’s permission to expand its operations, as the first sentence implies. Nor did the council approve an expansion plan, as the second sentence plainly states.
Instead, today the council granted BG Products an exemption from paying property taxes estimated at $204,280 per year for the next five years, and possibly another five years. This is how the industrial revenue bond program works in Kansas. Cities do not lend money. Instead, they grant exemptions from paying taxes. 2
(BG has agreed to pay $5,143 per year, the present taxes on a building being razed.)
While the agenda packet for the meeting specified BG’s plans for the bond proceeds, the proposed uses of the funds have little — nothing, really — to do with qualifying for IRBs. 3
So it’s curious as to why the agenda packet details the company’s plans for the bond proceeds. It’s even more curious why city economic development analyst Tim Goodpasture spent quite a bit of time briefing council members on these plans. Except: His Twitter handle is @goodybagict.
While the agenda packet supplies the estimated amount of property tax exemption granted to BG products, the city’s analysis makes no mention of the amount of sales tax BG may escape paying. Sales tax exemptions are another feature of IRBs in addition to property tax exemptions. While the city’s analysis doesn’t mention sales tax, section 5 of the ordinance passed by the council states the city has determined BG is entitled to a sales tax exemption of unspecified amount.
Since the city’s analysis of the proposal did not include mention of sales tax, we’re left to wonder whether the Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research incorporated the sales tax exemption in the analysis it performs for the city.
“The percentage of taxes abated is based on capital investment and job creation. Majority of goods or services sold must be destined for customers outside of the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Company must pay average wages equal to or greater than the industry or Wichita MSA wage rate. City benefit/cost ration must be at least 1.3 to 1.” City of Wichita, Economic Development Incentives. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Economic/Pages/Incentives.aspx. ↩
The matter under consideration was a redevelopment plan for Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Approval was necessary if tax increment financing (TIF) funds could be spent on the park. 1 TIF is a mechanism whereby future tax revenues are redirected towards a specific purpose, usually to the benefit of a private property owner. 2
The “plan” under consideration was solely the financing plan. No actual design for a future Naftzger Park was considered or selected.
At the council meeting — and at many other meetings and online discussions — people have noted that the city is planning to spend money on the redesign of Naftzger Park while at the same time there are, according to them, unmet needs throughout the city: Closing swimming pools, assistance for homeless, inadequate staffing of the police department, etc. Why, they ask, can’t the Naftzger Park money be used to solve these problems?
The admonishment of Williams — “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars” — was directed at this criticism. She is correct: The mechanism of TIF allows for these dollars to be spent on just one thing, and that is the redesign of Naftzger Park. 3
So in one way, they aren’t our tax dollars. They are being spent in the way that TGC Development Group, the owner of adjacent property, wants them spent. 4
But this upends the rationale and justification for taxation.
In Wichita, as in most cities, the largest consumers of property tax dollars are the city, county, and school district. All justify their tax collections by citing the services they provide: Law enforcement, fire protection, education, etc. It is for providing these services that we pay local taxes.
Within a TIF district, however, the new property tax dollars — the increment — do not go to the city, county, and school district to pay for services. Instead, these dollars are used in ways that benefit private parties.
Yet, the new development will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But its incremental property taxes do not pay for these, as they have been diverted elsewhere. (The base property taxes still go to pay for these services, but the base is usually low.) Instead, others must pay the cost of providing services to the TIF development, or accept reduced levels of service as existing service providers are saddled with increasing demand.
Supporters of TIF argue that TIF developers aren’t getting a free ride. The city isn’t giving them cash, they say. The owners of the TIF development will be paying their full share of higher property taxes in the future. All this is true. But, these future tax dollars are spent for their benefit, not to pay for the cost of government.
In the case of Naftzger Park, the situation is murkier. Usually TIF funds are spent on things that directly benefit the private development, things like property acquisition, site preparation, utilities, and drainage. In this case, the TIF funds are being spent to redesign a public park — and a park that many people like.
But it’s clear that the present state of Naftzger Park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. Now that the park redesign will be financed with TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.
Contrary to Council Member Williams and the others who voted in favor of the TIF redevelopment plan: These are our tax dollars. Redirecting them for private benefit has a cost. A real cost that others must pay. If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.
The developers of property near Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita will possibly receive millions in other subsidy.
The powerful impetus to redevelop Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is attributed to two sources: The NCAA basketball games in March and the desire of TGC Development Group to develop property it owns near the park.
How much motivation comes from which source depends on who you ask. But it’s clear that the present state of the park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. If the park redesign is paid for with tax increment financing, or TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.
But this is likely not the only benefit TGC will receive from taxpayers. The building TGC owns near Naftzger Park is commonly known as the “Spaghetti Works” building. Before that it was known as the Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company. Under that name, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 1 Then, in 2016 conditional approval was given for federal historic preservation tax credits. 2
These federal tax credits are worth 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating historic structures. 3 These credits may be used dollar-for-dollar when paying federal income taxes, or they may be sold for cash, usually at a discount, and someone else uses them — instead of cash — to pay taxes they owe.
So when TGC spends, say, $1,000,000 on the building, it will receive — conceptually — a slip of paper valued at $200,000. It may use this instead of cash to pay its taxes, or it may sell it to someone else.
That’s not all. Although there is no application at this time, it’s likely that TGC will also apply for Kansas tax credits. These are like the federal credits, except they are for 25 percent of the rehabilitation costs. 4
Together these tax credits can pay up to 45 percent of the costs of rehabbing this building.
These tax credits have a real cost. As long as state or federal government does not reduce spending by the amount of these credits, and specifically because of these credits, other taxpayers have to pay.
Additionally, these tax credits are inefficient. When Kansas Legislative Post Audit looked at Kansas tax credits, it found that when sold, the state receives 85 cents of project value for each dollar foregone. 5
There are many reasons why historic preservation tax credits should be eliminated. 67 But for now, it’s important to know that a redesigned Naftzger Park is not the only economic subsidy the nearby private property owners are likely to receive.
“The Historic Preservation Tax Credit isn’t cost-effective. That credit works differently than the other three because the amount of money a historic preservation project receives from the credit is dependent upon the amount of money it’s sold for. Our review showed that, on average, when Historic Preservation Credits were transferred to generate money for a project, they only generated 85 cents for the project for every dollar of potential tax revenue the State gave up.” Kansas Legislative Post Audit. Kansas Tax Revenues, Part I: Reviewing Tax Credits. Available at http://www.kslpa.org/assets/files/reports/10pa03-1a.pdf. ↩
One of the issues surrounding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is land ownership.
Information from the Sedgwick County Online Map Portal shows land parcels and ownership. The nearby illustration shows Naftzger Park and its environs. (I don’t think it’s possible for me to save a link that brings you directly to the map as I’ve shown it.) On this map, the two parcels owned by private owners are outlined in orange. The City of Wichita or the Board of Park Commissioners own the other parcels north of William Street.
We can see that the park is built partially on land owned by private owners. City officials have said that a narrow strip of land on the east side of the park is involved. From this map we can see that the situation is more complex.
It would be interesting to learn how this mistake — if that’s what it is — occurred. At one time the city owned the entire block after it acquired land to reform what was skid row.
On Tuesday August 15 the Wichita City Council will hold a public hearing to consider authorizing spending TIF funds on Naftzger Park.
This week the Wichita City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a new redevelopment project plan for a tax increment financing (TIF) district in downtown Wichita. The redevelopment project plan contemplates transforming Naftzger Park. The hearing is part of the regular council meeting at 9:00 am Tuesday August 15 at city hall.
While the city has held four public meetings on the topic of Naftzger Park redesign, these meetings were not legally required. But the Tuesday public hearing is required, as city documents explain: “In order to establish the legal authority to use tax increment financing the City Council must adopt a redevelopment project plan for a project area, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project, how tax increment financing would be used and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with tax increment financing.” 1
As for providing “more detailed information on the proposed project,” the redevelopment project plan supplied by the city is quite generic. This week the project architect presented four plans at public meetings. But these drawings cannot be found online — not on the city’s website, its Facebook page, or the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation — except for unclear photographs.
The redevelopment project plan describes how to pay for the redesign of Naftzger Park: “Improvements on the adjacent site are anticipated to generate the revenue necessary to fund the improvements to Naftzger.” This is the mechanism of tax increment financing: Future property taxes are redirected from their normal course and funneled back to benefit the development. The city correctly notes that the TIF funds are being used to develop a public park, not a private development. But the private property owner obviously considers the present park a problem. A new park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for new development and will be of great benefit to the owner. And, many people are opposed to changing the park.
From the redevelopment project plan: “The City will provide public funding, including tax increment financing and general obligation bond financing to finance the project costs.” 2 That is, there is additional spending contemplated.
“Tax increment funds may also be used to pay for eligible improvements financed through general obligation bonds and to reimburse additional eligible project costs when additional tax increment revenues are available.” 3 Here, the redevelopment project plan hints at more property tax being redirected to the development.
“It is assumed that Project construction will begin in 2018 and be completed before the end of 2023, and therefore achieve full valuation by January 1, 2024. It is estimated that in 2024 the property tax increment will be $163,970.” 4 These projections are highly speculative. The city’s record in projecting future development in current TIF districts is spotty. See WaterWalk, Ken-Mar, etc.
“Park improvements are projected to costs approximately $3,000,000, with $1,500,000 of such costs to be financed from proceeds of the City’s full faith and credit tax increment bonds (the “Bonds”).” 5 Here the redevelopment project plan reminds readers that if future property taxes are insufficient to pay the bonds, the city itself is liable. The city exacts an agreement from TIF developers that if TIF revenue is insufficient that the developers will pay the difference, but the city’s record in enforcing these agreements is spotty. 6
“Incremental tax revenue available after the payment of such Bonds may be used to pay for additional TIF-eligible Project costs related to Park improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis or reimburse the debt service on City general obligation bonds issued to finance a portion of the cost of the Park improvements, if any.” 4 Again, the redevelopment project plan hints that future park spending may be paid for with TIF.
The table titled “Projected Tax Increment Report” is subtitled with the name of a different project. This is probably an error without much consequence, as someone in the city probably reused a spreadsheet from a similar project and forgot to revise the title. The same error appears in a second table of figures titled “Projected Bond Cash Flow Report.” Except: The city made this same error in previous versions of this document, as I reported earlier. 8 We’re left to wonder whether anyone — at city hall, the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, or the private developers who will benefit from this spending — care to correct errors like this.
The first table projects the assessed value — and by implication, also the appraised or market value — of property through the year 2036. These projections are highly speculative.
In a section titled “Description of Naftzger Park Project” we see an item titled “TIF Pay-as-you-go Costs” with the amount given as $1,500,000. This spending was mentioned in earlier city documents, but hasn’t received much public discussion. The $1.5 million figure that is in the news is from “regular” TIF financing. In that case, the city borrows money, and the debt is repaid from future property taxes. With the pay-as-you-go TIF, the city simply spends future property taxes in the project. 9 The difference is that in regular TIF, the city is liable for the debt if future incremental taxes are insufficient to cover bond payments. In pay-as-you-go TIF, there is no debt, only redirection of property taxes from their normal distribution.
For more about Naftzger Park, see these articles and other information from Voice for Liberty:
WichitaLiberty.TV: Naftzger Park. Wichita Assistant City Manager and Director of Development Scot Rigby joins hosts Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss the plans for Naftzger Park. Then, Bob and Karl continue the discussion.
City of Wichita. Comprehensive Financing Feasibility Study for the Naftzger Park Project within the Center City South Redevelopment District City of Wichita, Kansas. Available in the August 15 agenda packet. ↩