Tag Archives: Economic development

An endorsement from the Wichita Chamber of Commerce

When the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee endorses a candidate, consider what that means.

If you’ve been following analyst James Chung — and it seems like everyone has — he’s delivered a sobering message: The Wichita economy has not been growing. “[Wichita has been] stuck in neutral for about three decades, with basically no growth, amidst the landscape of a growing U.S. economy,” he said. (In fact, in 2016 the Wichita economy shrank from the previous year, and numbers for 2017 don’t look much better.)

Chung says we need to change our ways. In his June visit he said, and the Chung Report wrote, “Every market signal points to the same conclusion: The manner in which Wichita is operating during this critical point in our history is just not working.”

So what needs to change? Chung won’t say, but here are two things:

First, there are some elected officials and bureaucrats who have presided over the stagnation of Wichita. These people need to go.

Second, there are also institutions that are problems, with one glaring example. In one way or another, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead in economic development for many years. In recent years the Chamber ran Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Now the effort has been split off to a non-profit corporation, the Greater Wichita Partnership.

That sounds good, but under the hood it’s the same leadership and the same methods, although with a few new hired hands.

So when James Chung (and others) says our manner of operation is not working, it’s the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its ecosystem that must assume a large portion of blame.

Not only has the Wichita Chamber manner of operation not been working, its leadership hasn’t been working, either. In 2014 the Chamber showed charts of Wichita job growth as compared to the nation and other cities, and Wichita was near the bottom. The Chamber’s response was to advocate for a Wichita city sales tax, some to be used for economic development, but also for water supply enhancement, street repair, and bus transit improvement.

The Chamber managed the political campaign for the sales tax, and in November 2014, 62 percent of Wichita voters said no.

After this, what did the Chamber do? It had told Wichitans that an economic development fund fed by sales tax revenue was essential. Then, the sales tax vote failed. But that isn’t the only way to fund what the Chamber said we needed. The Chamber could have asked the Wichita city council to raise property taxes, and the council could have done that with a simple majority vote of its members. (Since then it has become more difficult, but still possible, to raise local property taxes.)

Or, the city could have raised franchise fees. These are like a sales tax added to utility bills. This could also have been accomplished with a simple majority vote of the council. The council could do it today, if its members wanted to.

None of these possibilities were pursued, at least to my knowledge. The Wichita Chamber of Commerce, after advocating for a sales tax it said was essential, gave up after defeat. It recommended that Wichitans vote to impose a sales tax themselves, but when it came to something it could have accomplished — new taxes through city council votes — the Chamber backed away.

The Chamber then formed the Greater Wichita Partnership. But many of the people who supported the Chamber’s sales tax are directing the operations of GWP, serving its strategic advisory team and the more-exclusive executive board.

This includes the president and CEO of the Wichita Chamber, who was also president during the sales tax campaign.

The Chamber endorsements

So when the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC supports candidates, spends money on their behalf, and issues endorsements, what should voters think?

Voters should remember that the Wichita Chamber has presided over the wreckage of the Wichita economy, its leaders still call the shots, and still wants to raise taxes, I believe.

Plus, these people will not accept responsibility for the harm they have caused.

This is a shame, because we want to be proud of our civic leadership. We want to have faith in our elected officials and bureaucrats.

But that isn’t the case in Wichita. Keep this in mind when considering candidates endorsed by the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC.

Wichita business press needs to step up

If a newspaper is going to write a news story, it might as well take a moment to copy and paste information from a city council agenda packet. Especially when what is missing from the story is perhaps the most important information.

When the Wichita City Council approved an Industrial Revenue Bond issue at its July 10, 2018 meeting, the city’s business press covered the matter. In the Wichita Eagle, the story fails to mention the motivation for the item. 1

The meeting agenda packet for this item, very near its start, states plainly the benefits of the IRBs: “Cargill Incorporated (Cargill) is requesting a Letter of Intent (LOI) for the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) in an amount not to exceed $38,000,000 and an 81.5% five-plus-five-year tax abatement and a sales tax exemption for the construction of a new biodiesel facility in north Wichita.” 2

There it is, in plain sight and language: Cargill will save a lot of money in taxes by using these bonds. How much? The same city document details some of the savings:

Based on the current mill levy, the estimated tax value of exempted property for the first full year is $337,904. The value of an 81.5% real property tax exemption (assuming the property is appraised at 80% of the capital investment) as applicable to taxing jurisdictions is:

City $94,109
County $84,677
State $4,321
USD 259 $154,797

The agenda packet doesn’t give an amount for the value of the sales tax exemption, but if all $38,000,000 in bond proceeds was spent on taxable items, sales tax would be $2,850,000. The actual sales tax savings will likely be less than that, but still a lot. (We’ll likely never know, as the Kansas Department of Revenue won’t release the value of sales tax exemptions associated with bond issues.)

Why didn’t the Eagle report this? I don’t know. But the property and sales tax exemptions are the driving motivation behind almost all requests for IRBs. 3

It’s not the case that the company can’t obtain financing on the market. Many IRBs are purchased by the requesting company, as is the case with these bonds, according to the agenda packet: “The bonds will be privately placed with Cargill.”

Instead, Kansas law requires, in most cases, that to issue property and sales tax abatements, IRBs must be used. Again, from the agenda packet: “To insure that all of the real property improvements are receiving the tax abatement, the improvements must be bond financed.” 4

Why can’t the city council simply wave a magic wand and absolve Cargill of paying millions of dollars in property and sales taxes? This is what the city council did, but in a roundabout way.

But because the tax giveaway is mixed with confusing details of bonds, many citizens don’t notice the giveaway. Especially when our city’s leading newspaper does not report this.

Wichita Business Journal reporting was a little better, mentioning the property and sales tax exemptions, but not their monetary value. 5

This article also contains this: “With IRBs, the city serves as a pass-through entity for developers to obtain a lower interest rate on projects. IRBs require no taxpayer commitment.” This is language the newspaper often includes when reporting on IRB issues, and it is simply not true. In this case, a portion of this project qualifies for tax-exempt financing, as it is a solid waste processing facility. 6

But for the remainder of the project, as is the case for most IRB-funded projects, it is not likely the facility will save on interest costs with IRBs. The article is correct in that IRBs require no taxpayer commitment. The city makes no guarantee as to the bond repayment. If the city did guarantee repayment, that would help the borrower obtain a lower interest rate. But there is no guarantee.


Notes

  1. Finger, Stan. Wichita City Council approves bonds for Cargill expansion. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/business/article214622565.html.
  2. Wichita City Council Agenda packet for July, 10, 2017. Item IV-1.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  4. As noted below, there is a slight wrinkle in this IRB issue, as some of the financed property is exempt from federal income taxes on interest payments and requires IRBs for that particular property. This is an unusual factor, and does not require that all the plant be financed with IRBs.
  5. Daniel McCoy and Bryan Horwath. City Council approves IRBs for Cargill biodiesel plant. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/07/10/city-council-approves-irbs-for-cargill-biodiesel.html.
  6. “The solid waste processing component qualifies under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations for tax exempt financing, which can save the company interest expense. Of the total project, approximately $30,000,000 would qualify as a Solid Waste Processing Facility, and therefore, eligible for tax-exempt financing.” Agenda Packet for July 10, 2018.

Project Wichita survey

The Project Wichita survey is about to end. Will it have collected useful data?

Project Wichita is “a community engagement process to identify the future we want for our home and the steps necessary to achieve it.” 1 So far it has held focus groups that collected ideas for the future of Wichita, in which “an astounding 3,800+ people 2 shared their vision in 239+ focus groups,” according to the project’s Facebook page. The survey, which is ending on July 6, is another component of the “listen” phase of the project, with “focus” and “share” phases still to come.

The survey may be taken on-line or by paper. The online survey is implemented as a number of pages, each concerning a topic. The first page is titled “Vision for Our Region: Please indicate your level of agreement with the following for developing a vision for the Wichita region. Our region should be a place that:” Following are several items like “all children have the chance to succeed.” Respondents are asked to select one of these responses for each item:

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Undecided
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

The second page is titled “Strong Neighborhoods. Please indicate the importance of investing resources (time, human resources, money) in the following for developing and supporting safe and strong neighborhoods throughout our region.” A sample item is “Repair deteriorating homes to improve neighborhoods.” Respondents may choose from these responses:

  • Not important investment
  • Slightly important investment
  • Moderately important investment
  • Very important investment
  • Essential investment

There is no opportunity to answer in any way other than these responses. There is no possibility of leaving a comment.

The question of the importance of investment continues with slight variation for six more pages on these topics:

  • Economic Advantage and Opportunity
  • Transportation
  • Cultural Arts
  • Attractions and Entertainment
  • Education; Community Wellness
  • Wichita Riverfront and Downtown Development

Then a page titled Regional Perspectives: “Please tell us your thoughts about the following regional questions” where participants are asked to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement with the following:

  • I think an increase in population would make the Wichita region thrive.
  • I am optimistic about the future of the Wichita region.
  • I think the Wichita region has to be willing to change to keep and attract the next generation.

Then there are some demographic questions.

Problems

First, the responses that the project will collect are from a self-selected group of respondents. There is no way to guarantee or know that the respondents are a representative sample of area residents. The focus groups had the same problem. This has been a problem with Wichita’s outreach in the past. In 2014 the city was quite proud of its engagement and positive response regarding the proposed city sales tax. Then, on election day, 62 percent of voters said no. 3 (Of course, those who vote are also a self-selected group of respondents. On the sales tax question, 103,290 people cast a vote. 4 For that year, the Census Bureau estimated there were 283,780 people of voting age in Wichita. 5 So 36.4 percent of the eligible voters made the decision for the rest, voters and non-voters, and also for those too young or ineligible to vote. But when we ask to settle issues by voting, voters are the people who make the decisions.)

Another problem has to do with the preface to the many questions asking about the importance of making investments in various things. What is missing is whose resources are to be invested? Yours? Mine? Someone we don’t know?

Related is that almost all the items participants are asked to rate are things that almost everyone agrees are good. Who could not strongly agree with investing so that “all children have the chance to succeed?” I suppose that some people might select “Very important investment” instead of “Essential investment” for some items. That might produce a shade of difference in the importance of items.

What would really be useful, however, is asking participants to rank the importance of investing in each item, from most important to least important, with no ties allowed. Instructions might be worded like “Rank the importance of investing in the following five areas. 1 is the most important investment, while 5 is the least important. You must assign a rank to each item, and there may be no ties.”

Then, to make things really useful: Ask participants to produce rankings for the importance of public sector investment, and separate rankings for the importance of private sector investment.

Understanding and distinguishing the difference between public and private investment is vital. When people believe that others will be paying, there is no limit to what people want. Milton Friedman knew this: “When a man spends his own money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about how much he spends and how he spends it. When a man spends his own money to buy something for someone else, he is still very careful about how much he spends, but somewhat less what he spends it on. When a man spends someone else’s money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about what he buys, but doesn’t care at all how much he spends. And when a man spends someone else’s money on someone else, he doesn’t care how much he spends or what he spends it on. And that’s government for you.” (For more, see Friedman: The fallacy of the welfare state.)

People recognize this. Remarks left on Facebook on the Project Wichita page 6 included this by one writer:

Just took survey! One would think “they” want to convert Wichita or Kansas to socialism. I’m a liberal conservative Democrat and yet questions are very concerning and disturbing.

Following up, the same person wrote:

Applaud the effort however many of the questions concerning me as it relates to governments role in community and well-being of such. … At what point should community and individuals be primarily responsible for many of the topics you address in your survey?

Another Facebook user wrote:

Your survey is great but you left out a very important piece of information. WHO is going to provide the money for the investments that are queried in your survey? A lot of areas need investment of funds but, those funds should come from the private sector, not public sector. As a result of the inability to discern a difference in the source of required investments, the survey is somewhat useless.”

Yet another from Facebook:

Each of your questions should be followed by the question, “How much are you personally willing to pay for this line item” or “Which government service should be eliminated to pay for this line item”. Your list will get quite short when people are asked to spend their own money rather than other people’s money.

These basic defects preclude this effort as being serious social science research. Yet, that is likely how it will be presented, especially since a university agency is involved.

Of note: Project Wichita has no official opinion as who should pay for these investments. Cynics — that is, realists — believe that programs like Project Wichita are designed to convince citizens to support increased taxes or debt issues to be repaid with future taxes, with those future taxes undoubtedly higher.

One reason for this suspicion is that portions of the Project Wichita process are being managed by Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center. 7 Its director and its associated academics have a clear preference for higher taxes, at one time writing a paper advising cities to create “more willing taxpayers.” 8

Other people and companies that Project Wichita identifies as part of the “Vision Team” (or “funders”) also made large contributions to the campaign for a Wichita City sales tax in 2014:

  • Allen Gibbs & Houlik, L.C.
  • Jon Rolph and his company Sasnak
  • The Chandler family and Intrust Bank
  • GLMV Architecture
  • Emprise Bank
  • Spirit Aerosystems
  • Commerce Bank
  • Equity Bank
  • Cox Machine
  • Westar Energy
  • Professional Engineering Consultants
  • Star Lumber
  • Bothner & Bradley and its principals
  • Envision
  • Lubrication Engineers
  • Jeff Fluhr, head of Downtown Wichita and now also Greater Wichita Partnership

Some of these companies regularly receive economic development incentives from the City of Wichita or do business with the city. Some are subject to the city’s regulations such as zoning and permitting.

It’s difficult to digest all this without concluding that Project Wichita project is designed to develop a case — an appetite — for higher taxes. That’s even before realizing that the driving force behind Project Wichita — according to word on the street — is Jon Rolph, who was the chair of the campaign for the Wichita city sales tax in 2014. Further, Project Wichita is sharing offices with the Greater Wichita Partnership and Downtown Wichita, two organizations always in favor of the expansion of government.

Individual questions

Besides general problems with the survey instrument, there are these problems with individual items:

“Improve the current public transit system (e.g. expand routes, expand hours).” There may be support for spending public funds on this, even if it means raising taxes. This was one of the uses for the proposed Wichita city sales tax in 2014. It was bundled with other items, and voters defeated the tax.

“Make flights from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport more affordable.” We’ve spent a lot doing this. The city and the airport say the programs have been successful.

“Increase direct flights from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport.” This is an area that could use improvement. The number of departures and the number of available seats on departing flights has been underperforming the nation, despite much investment in the forms of tax-funded subsidies for airlines. There is also a new airport terminal.

“Offer more diverse entertainment options (e.g. music festivals, restaurants, theme parks).” There are many people trying to figure out what type of restaurants are wanted in Wichita, and where. These people are motivated by profit. It’s difficult to believe that government could do a better job of deciding upon, and operating, restaurants.

“Support entrepreneurial opportunities.” There is an organization doing this, e2e. More broadly, when the city offers economic development incentives, it makes it harder for young, entrepreneurial companies to survive as they must bear the cost of incentives and compete with incentivized companies for labor and capital. 9

Under education, a topic that is glaringly omitted is school choice. Parents like having the possibility of school choice, especially parents who can’t afford private school tuition. Plus, school choice, like charter schools, could help control “sprawl,” something that is often seen as a negative factor. If parents who want to live in central Wichita could have access to school choice in nearby schools, it might counter the commonly-held perception that if you want good schools for your children, you must buy a home outside the Wichita school district.

“Provide modern performing arts center (e.g. symphony, music theater, opera) that meets the region’s needs.” and “Provide a modern convention center that attracts more conventions and events.” These are topics that Wichita will likely be grappling with soon, and in a real way. Wichita has already hired a consultant to study this issue. (More information is at Century II resource center.) A task force is studying the issue. Soon, it is quite likely that residents of Wichita or Sedgwick County may be asked to approve a sales tax to fund a convention center and possible a performing arts center. Or, citizens suffer the implementation of Design Build Finance Operate and Maintain (DBFOM), or P3. In this model as applied to Wichita, a third party would do all the work of designing, financing, building, and operating a convention center and possibly a performing arts center. Then, the city simply pays a fee each year to use the center, called an “availability payment.” This is simple a way to disguise long-term debt. See Wichita about to commit to more spending. Bigly. for more about this.

Cynics — that is, realists — believe that programs like Project Wichita are designed to convince citizens to support these taxes or debt issues. (By the way, the convention center business is a poor way to build a city’s economy. See Should Wichita expand its convention facilities?.)


Notes

  1. Project Wichita. Available at https://www.projectwichita.org/.
  2. With the population of the city of Wichita at about 388,000, (U.S. Census Bureau. 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates), nearly one percent participated.
  3. Sedgwick County Election Office. Available at https://www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election-results/2014-general/.
  4. Ibid.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
  6. Available at https://www.facebook.com/ProjectWichita/.
  7. “Volunteers wanted the regional 10-year vision and action plan Project Wichita process to include big discussions from as many people as possible. So Wichita State University’s (WSU) Public Policy and Management Center team built a custom process for gathering input across the region. The process includes focus groups with individuals and organizations, gathering feedback at diverse community events, online surveys and robust social media engagement.” Project Wichita. Process. Available at https://www.projectwichita.org/process.
  8. Misty Bruckner is the Director. A few years ago Brucker she and her colleagues co-authored a paper titled “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities. See http://www.gfoa.org/sites/default/files/GFR_OCT_10_24.pdf. My reporting on it was titled Wichita needs more, and willing, taxpayers. An excerpt: “Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.” (emphasis added)
  9. See Weeks, Bob. Job creation at young firms declines. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/job-creation-at-young-firms-declines/. Also: “Part of the cost of these companies’ investment, along with the accompanying risk, is spread to a class of business firms that can’t afford additional cost and risk. These are young startup firms, the entrepreneurial firms that we need to nurture in order to have real and sustainable economic growth and jobs. But we can’t identify which firms will be successful. So we need an economic development strategy that creates an environment where these young entrepreneurial firms have the greatest chance to survive. The action the Wichita city council is considering this week works against entrepreneurial firms.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-grant-property-sales-tax-relief/.

Wichita jobs up

Wichita employment trends are positive for three consecutive months.

Seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a rise in the Wichita metropolitan area labor force and job count. This data is through May 2018 and shows three consecutive months of rising employment.

This is a reversal of the long term trend for Wichita, in which the labor force and employment have been falling or trending steady while the nation’s economy has been growing. An interactive visualization of employment data for all metropolitan areas is available here.

While the upward trend is welcome, it is not known whether Wichita can sustain positive growth.

In May, the forecast for Wichita from Center for Economic Development and Business Research (CEDBR) at Wichita State University was pessimistic: “The production sectors are projected to remain approximately flat in 2018. Natural resources and construction employment is forecast to increase by less than 100 jobs while manufacturing employment is projected to decline by less than 100 jobs.”

This decline in manufacturing employment is forecast even after the new Spirit Aerosystems jobs are accounted for. In its reporting on this forecast, the Wichita Eagle wrote:

Late last year, Spirit, the city’s largest employer, announced plans to hire an additional 1,000 mostly production workers over two years, with the bulk of the hiring expected in 2018. Bombardier announced plans to add 100 jobs when it moves its Global 5000 business jet interior completions work from Canada to Wichita later this year.

“I’m not so sure all of the positive news means we’re growing,” [CEDBR director Jeremy] Hill said.

He said the gains at Bombardier and Spirit are offset by contraction and consolidation by smaller manufacturers that supply parts to Spirit and other aircraft manufacturers. In some cases, work the smaller firms have done has been taken back by larger manufacturers, who are now doing it themselves. Retirements in aircraft manufacturing may also be affecting the numbers, Hill said, but he doesn’t have the data to confirm that.

“It is hard to get your hands on,” he said. “It’s definitely not showing up in the (employment) numbers, not showing up in output in durables manufacturing.”

Wichita and U.S. employment. Click for larger.

Wichita and Midwest income

A look at income in Wichita compared to other Midwest cities.

How much do Wichitans earn at their jobs, compared to other cities?

Click for larger.
This data is of interest as recently James Chung told an audience that “average income” is $10,000 higher in Midwest comparable cities than in Wichita. He didn’t define the term “income,” he didn’t define the comparable cities, and he didn’t provide any sources of data. But mention of this is a good time to look at income in Wichita and other cities.

Occupational salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, collects data regarding salaries of occupations in different cities in a program called Occupational Employment Statistics. More information about this program may be found here.

One way to examine income in different cities is to compare the salaries for different jobs using the OES data collected by BLS. I selected some cities to compare with Wichita: Cedar Rapids, IA; Colorado Springs, CO; Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO; Kansas City, MO-KS; Oklahoma City, OK; Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA; and Tulsa, OK. (The data is collected for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), not cities. But it seems more natural to use the term city.)

The OES dataset is large, holding data on over 800 occupations, and it’s unwieldy to make apt comparisons. Besides what I report below, I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the OES data. In the interactive visualization, you may select any cities and occupations for comparison. Click here to learn more and use it.

Occupational salary example. Click for larger.
Considering all occupations for this sampling of cities, the annual salary in Wichita is $43,880, while it is $50,600 in Des Moines. That’s $6,720 lower in Wichita, or 13 percent.

Considering a few semi-random occupations: For buyers and purchasing agents, the highest salary is in Cedar Rapids at $75,830. The Wichita salary is $9,640 less, while the Des Moines salary is $15,070 less.

For food service managers, the highest salary is in Colorado Springs at $66,300. The Wichita salary is $1,520 less, while the Des Moines salary is $21,270 less.

For police officers, the highest salary is in Colorado Springs at $68,980. The Wichita salary is $21,670 less, while the Des Moines salary is $4,310 less.

For telemarketers, the highest salary is in Fayetteville at $27,760. The Wichita salary is $1,860 less, while the Des Moines salary is $2,100 less.

For the broad category of architecture and engineering occupations, Wichita is the leader in the sample at $82,710. Des Moines is at $71.930, which is $10,780 lower.

For the broad category of production workers, Wichita again leads the sample at $44,950, while Des Moines is at $35,190, which is $9,760 lower.

Personal income

Another set of data that can help is personal income. For Des Moines, personal income per person is $50,677 (complete year 2016). For Wichita, the value is $47,395, which is $3,282 less. (For an interactive visualization of personal income, see Visualization: Personal income by metropolitan area.)

Click for larger.

Difficulties

Comparing average salaries for groups of occupations in different cities has problems. One is the number of workers in occupations. Considering management occupations, there are few chief executive officers but many other managers. The weight of the number of workers needs to be considered.

Also, the magnitude of salaries is an issue. Chief executive officer salaries vary widely, by tens of thousands of dollars. The data tells us that a CEO in Wichita earns $65,400 less than in Des Moines. That variation is greater than the average salary across all occupations, and provides little insight into the salaries of the majority of workers.

The per capita personal income figures overcome these obstacles.

$10,000

Do Wichitans earn $10,000 less than in comparable Midwest cities, as James Chung recently presented? Based on per capita personal income, the answer is no. Not even close to that, although Wichita’s per capita income is not encouraging.

Based on occupational salaries, Wichitans earn less than many comparable Midwest cities, but nothing near $10,000 less when all occupations are considered. In specific occupations, Wichita salaries are much less, but in some cases Wichita salaries are highest.

Sedgwick County jobs

Sedgwick County had fewer jobs in 2017 than in 2016.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released new data for the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. This represents data for the complete year of 2017, on a preliminary basis.

From December 2016 to December 2017 Sedgwick County employment was level, changing by 0.0 percent. According to the BLS news release, that ranked 317 of the 347 largest counties.

Showing monthly value with strong seasonality, and 12-month trailing moving average. Click for larger.
Using the monthly average job count, Sedgwick County had 248,772 (monthly average) jobs in 2016. For 2017 that fell to 247,022, a decline of 1,750 jobs or 0.7 percent.

As can be seen in the chart of change in job levels, 2017 continues a trend of slower job growth in Sedgwick County, with the growth trend turning negative.

Nonetheless, Sedgwick County leaders, as well as other local leaders, proclaim momentum in the local economy. Earlier this year Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 1 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year. 2

In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”

In the same column he also wrote “There is a lot of momentum and forward movement in our community right now and I’m encouraged to see what we can achieve as a team.”

Looking at these statistics, it’s difficult to see how anyone could come to these conclusions.

According to BLS, “The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program publishes a quarterly count of employment and wages reported by employers covering more than 95 percent of U.S. jobs, available at the county, MSA, state and national levels by industry.” Also “The primary economic product is the tabulation of employment and wages of establishments which report to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs of the United States. Employment covered by these UI programs represents about 97% of all wage and salary civilian employment in the country.”

Source of data is Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, specifically series ENU2017310010: “All Employees in Total Covered Total, all industries for All establishment sizes in Sedgwick County, Kansas, NSA.” Data through December 2017.


Notes

  1. David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Sedgwick County’s David Dennis on economic development. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/sedgwick-county-government/sedgwick-county-david-dennis-on-economic-development/.

Wichita in ‘Best Cities for Jobs 2018’

Wichita continues to decline in economic vitality, compared to other areas.

NewGeography.com is a joint venture of Joel Kotkin and Praxis Strategy Group. Its annual “Best Cities for Jobs” project ranks metropolitan areas according to growth in employment.

Of 422 metropolitan areas considered, Wichita ranked 383, dropping 28 spots since the previous year.

Among 100 medium size metropolitan areas, Wichita ranked 93, dropping 5 spots from the previous year.

NewGeography.com uses employment data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics from November 2006 to January 2018. 1 Last year’s publication contains a more detailed explanation of how the rankings capture current year-growth, mid-term growth, and momentum. 2

In the analysis for 2017, Wichita had also fallen in ranking.

Wichita has momentum, they say

Despite this news, Wichita leaders are in denial. 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. 3

In January Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said, “It’s hard to find a time when we’ve had more momentum.” 4

In March Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 5 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year. In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”

At the same time, the Wichita Eagle editorialized: “Wichita’s economy struggled to rebound from the last recession, which held the city back. But there have been positive economic signs of late, including a renewed focus on innovation and regional cooperation. … There also is a sense of momentum about Wichita. Yes, challenges remain, but the city seems to have turned a corner, with even greater things ahead.”6

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.” 7

Given all this, it ought to be easy to find economic data supporting momentum, progress, and growth. Besides the NewGeography.com report cited above, let’s look at some other indicators.

Personal income. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from the 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016. 8

Personal Income Summary, Wichita, through 2016. Click for larger.

Population. In 2000 Wichita was the 80th largest metropolitan area. In 2017 its ranking had fallen to 89. See Wichita metropolitan area population in context for more on this topic.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Downtown Wichita. There’s been a lot of investment in downtown Wichita, both public and private. But since 2008 the trend is fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. Almost every year these numbers are lower than the year before. This is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising, but business activity is declining. 9

Employment. While officials promote the low Wichita-area unemployment rate, there is an alternative interpretation. First, the good news: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.9 percent in March 2018, down from 4.2 percent in March 2017. The number of unemployed persons declined by 8.3 percent for the same period. 10

Is Wichita’s declining unemployment rate good news, or a byproduct of something else? The unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the labor force. While the number of unemployed persons fell, so too did the labor force. It declined by 3,367 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,056. This produces a lower unemployment rate, but a shrinking labor force is not the sign of a healthy economy.

A further indication of the health of the Wichita-area economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This number declined by 1,200 from March 2017 to March 2018, a decline of 0.4 percent. This follows a decline of 0.7 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.

Of the metropolitan areas in the United States, BLS reports that 308 had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment, 72 (including Wichita) had decreases, and 8 had no change.

Growth in output. The worst news, however, is that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the Wichita metropolitan area gross domestic product fell by 1.4 percent. For all metropolitan areas, GDP grew by 1.7 percent. Since 2001, GDP for all metropolitan areas grew by 29.3 percent, while Wichita had 12.3 percent growth. 11

Wichita MSA employment, annual change. Click for larger.
The GDP figures are for 2016, and figures for 2017 won’t be available until September. So what happened in 2017? Could 2017 be the genesis of momentum to drive our economy forward?

While GDP figures aren’t available, jobs numbers are. For the year 2016, total nonfarm employment in the Wichita metropolitan area grew by 0.62 percent. For 2017, the growth rate was 0.56 percent — a slowdown in the rate of job growth. These job growth figures are far below the rate for the nation, which were 1.79 and 1.58 percent respectively.

Annual change in job growth, Wichita and USA through 2017. Click for larger.

Furthermore, Wichita’s job growth rate in 2016 was lower than 2015’s rate of 1.07 percent. This is momentum in the wrong direction. Nearby charts illustrate. 12

What to do?

The failure of the Wichita-area economy to thrive is a tragedy. This is compounded by Wichita leaders failing to acknowledge this, at least publicly. While we expect people like the mayor, council members, and the chamber of commerce to be cheerleaders for our city, we must wonder: Do these people know the economic statistics, or do they choose to ignore or disbelieve them?

From private conversations with some of these leaders and others, I think it’s a mix of both. Some are simply uninformed, while others are deliberately distorting the truth about the Wichita economy for political or personal gain. The people who are uninformed or misinformed can be educated, but the liars are beyond rehabilitation and should be replaced.


Notes

  1. “The methodology for our 2018 ranking largely corresponds to that used in previous years. We seek to measure the robustness of metro areas’ growth both recently and over time, with some minor corrections to mitigate the volatility that the Great Recession has introduced into the earlier parts of the time series. The ranking is based on three-month rolling averages of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ‘state and area’ unadjusted employment data reported from November 2006 to January 2018.” 2018 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005973-2018-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  2. 2017 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005618-2017-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html.
  6. Wichita is moving forward. March 1, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article135573253.html.
  7. 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.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita personal income up, a little. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-personal-income-up-2016/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Wichita unemployment rate falls. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-unemployment-rate-falls-2018-03/.
  11. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  12. In some presentations these figures may differ slightly due to data revisions and methods of aggregation. These differences are small and not material.

Kansas employment

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics data released this week: More jobs, fewer unemployed persons, and a smaller labor force compared to one year ago.

Click for larger.

For the last three months, using seasonally adjusted figures, there are more jobs, fewer unemployed persons, and a shrinking labor force.

Click for larger.

Personal income in Kansas and Wichita

Personal income in Wichita and Kansas has declined.

Today the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, released real personal income for the states and metropolitan areas. 1 The data released today is through the complete year 2016.

Real Personal Income for States, 2016. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Click for larger.
For the state of Kansas, real personal income declined from $137,975 million in 2015 to $137,307 in 2016, a decline of 0.5 percent. For the entire country, the growth was 1.1 percent. Among the states and DC, Kansas ranked forty-fifth in magnitude of change.

For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, real personal income declined from $30,913 million in 2015 to $30,747 in 2016, also a decline of 0.5 percent. Of 382 metro areas, Wichita ranked 337th in magnitude of change.

Looking at per capita figures, real personal income per capita in Kansas fell from $47,483 in 2015 to $47,221 in 2016, a decline of 0.6 percent. For the entire country, the growth was 0.4 percent. Among the states and DC, Kansas ranked forty-third in magnitude of change.

Real personal income per capita in the Wichita metropolitan statistical area fell from $48,076 in 2015 to $47,694 in 2016, a decline of 0.8 percent. Of 382 metro areas, Wichita ranked 325th in magnitude of change.

“Real” means that the values are expressed in a way that recognizes the effects of inflation. In this case the values are in “millions of chained (2009) dollars.” Additionally, BEA uses regional price data to measure and account for the effects of regional inflation.

BEA offers this definition: “Real state personal income is a state’s current-dollar personal income adjusted by the state’s regional price parity and the national personal consumption expenditures price index.” 2 Metro personal income is defined similarly.

Personal income, also from BEA, is “The income received by, or on behalf of, all persons from all sources: from participation as laborers in production, from owning a home or business, from the ownership of financial assets, and from government and business in the form of transfers. It includes income from domestic sources as well as the rest of world. It does not include realized or unrealized capital gains or losses.” 3


Notes

  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Real Personal Income for States and Metropolitan Areas, 2016. Available at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/rpp/2018/pdf/rpp0518.pdf.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.

Lawrence has it. Wichita doesn’t.

Despite promises, Wichita fails to inform citizens on important activities of its government.

For several years, the Kansas city of Lawrence has published an economic development report letting citizens know about the activities of the city in this area. The most recent edition may be viewed here.

The Lawrence report contains enough detail and length that an executive summary is provided. This report is the type of information that cities should be providing, but the City of Wichita does not do this.

Example from the Lawrence report. Click for larger.
It’s not like the City of Wichita does not realize the desirability of providing citizens with information. In fact, Wichitans have been teased with the promise of more information in order to induce them to vote for higher taxes. During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax in 2014, a city document promised this information regarding economic development spending if the tax passed: “The process will be transparent, with reports posted online outlining expenditures and expected outcomes.” (This is what Lawrence has been doing for several years.)

The “Yes Wichita” campaign promised, “Reports will be measured and reported publicly.” (But “Yes Wichita” was a campaign group and not an entity whose promises can be relied on, and can’t be held accountable for failure to perform.)

These are good ideas. The city should implement them even though the sales tax did not pass. If it’s good for citizens to have this type of information if the sales tax had passed, it’s good for them to know in any circumstance, because the city (and other overlapping governmental jurisdictions) still spends a lot on economic development.

Why is this information not available? Is the communications staff overwhelmed, with no time to provide this type of information?

During the sales tax campaign Wichita city staff had time to prepare news releases with titles like “City to Compete in Chili Cook-off” and “Jerry Seinfeld Returns to Century II.”

This year the city produces headlines like “Annual Arbor Day Returns Friday” and “Arkansas River Trash Roundup Saturday.”

But if you want to know how much — and how well — the city spends economic development dollars, you won’t find that.

Since the sales tax election in 2014 the city has hired additional communications staff, adding a Strategic Communications Director in 2015. Later that year the economic development staff was boosted with the hiring of an Assistant City Manager and Director of Development.

But no economic development reports.

Wichitans need to know that besides living in a city that doesn’t provide much information about its operations, the city believes it is doing a good job. Here is a Wichita city news release from 2013:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

In 2015 the city won another award, with the city reporting: “The City of Wichita has been recognized nationally for leading efforts related to technology, community engagement and transparency.

The official city biography for Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says he has “championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency.”

When I’ve expressed frustration with the process of asking for information from the city, communications staff told me this: “I should note that the City has won multiple awards for openness and citizen participation, but City leaders recognize this work is never done. They strive each and every day to become more open and transparent and will continue to do so.”

Wichitans need to wonder:

  • Why can’t we have the same information about our city government that residents of Lawrence have?

  • Was transparency promised only to get people to vote for the sales tax in 2014?

  • Does the city believe it deserved the awards it has received?

  • Is transparency really a governing principle of our city?

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.


Notes

  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/.

How much will this cost Wichita taxpayers?

How much, if anything, do tax abatements cost?

Someone asked a question regarding an item on the Wichita City Council agenda today: How much will this cost taxpayers?

The item in question is agenda item IV-1: Public Hearing and Request for a Letter of Intent to Issue Industrial Revenue Bonds (WAM Investments #6, LLC). 1

Attached was an article from the Wichita Business Journal previewing the matter. 2

How much do these bonds cost taxpayers? It’s important to remember that with Industrial Revenue Bonds in Kansas, cities and counties are not the lender. 3 If this company was not able to pay the bond interest or principle, the city would be under no obligation to pay. The city makes no guarantee as to repayment. Bond buyers know this.

(As an aside, the Business Journal article states: “However, using IRB financing can help the company secure a lower interest rate.” This is simply not true unless the bonds are tax-exempt municipal bonds. Those bonds have a lower interest rate because the interest income is not subject to income tax. But the IRBs considered today are not tax-exempt.)

So if the city is not lending money, and if the city is not guaranteeing repayment, do these bonds have a cost to taxpayers? The answer depends on which side of the fence you sit.

The benefit to WAM, today’s applicant, is that IRBs carry with them tax abatements. Specifically, a whole or partial exemption from paying some property taxes. Additionally, IRBs also enable escape from paying sales tax on purchases made with bond proceeds.

So one way to look at the IRBs is that they do indeed have a cost. The city, county, school district, and state will not receive tax revenue they otherwise would receive.

Supporters of this incentive make two rebuttals. One is that without the tax abatements, the project would not be built. Therefore, no tax revenue. So by abating taxes for a period of time, the project can be built, and after the abatements expire, it will be paying taxes. (For this project, the property tax abatement is for five or likely ten years, with a reduced rate of abatement in the final five.)

The second argument is that by building something, new jobs and commerce are created. These new employees and commercial activity pay taxes. The city and other jurisdictions receive more from these new taxes than they gave up in tax abatements. This is called the benefit-cost ratio. It’s computed by Center for Economic Development and Business Research (CEDBR) at Wichita State University. City documents often refer to something like a “1.57:1 benefit-cost ratio,” meaning that for every one dollar foregone in tax revenue, the city expects to gain $1.57 in other tax revenue.

There are problems with these arguments. For the first: The developer of this project says the incentives are “critical.” If true, this claim exposes a large problem, which is if taxes are so high as to block investment, how are we going to grow as a city and region? Will every project require tax incentives? If not, why do some say they need incentives, and some don’t?

Second: Remember that government says that with the new project, tax revenue will increase. But this almost always happens regardless of whether the company has received incentives. Therefore, the benefit-cost ratio calculations are valid only if incentives were absolutely necessary.

Are incentives necessary? The benefiting companies usually make their case with a lot of numbers and projections, most of which are simply guesses. Plus, there is strong incentive to not tell — to not know — the truth. Here’s why. Suppose fictional company XYZ dangles the idea of expanding its presence in Wichita, or maybe in some other city. XYZ cites incentive packages offered by other cities. Wichita comes up with millions in incentives, and XYZ decides to expand in Wichita. Question: Were the incentives necessary? Was the threat to expand elsewhere genuine? If XYZ admits the threat was not real, then it has falsely held Wichita hostage for incentives. If the city or state admits the threat was not real, then citizens wonder why government gave away so much. No one has an incentive to be truthful. 4

Back to the item on today’s agenda. How much tax revenue is foregone through the abatements? City documents in the agenda packet did not have these numbers, but a presentation made to council members did, as follows:

Value of one year 95% tax abatement ($6,000,000 at 80%)
City of Wichita: $37,240
Sedgwick County: $33,508
USD 375 (Circle public schools): $61,255
State of Kansas: $1,710
Total: $133,713

These values would apply annually for five years. If occupancy goals are met, the incentives would apply for another five years, at a lower rate. (The values above are 95 percent of the usual taxes. The rate for the second five years would be 50 percent of the usual taxes.)

(As an aside, the Business Journal should not use headlines like it did in this case: “Wichita City Council to consider $6 million in IRBs for industrial spec building.” A better headline would be something like “Wichita City Council to consider $133,713 in annual tax abatements.” That is the real economic transaction that happened today.)

But this is not all. The applicant company will almost certainly receive an exemption from paying sales tax on the building. City documents did not provide an estimate for how much sales tax might be abated, but it could be several hundred thousand dollars.


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council agenda packet for May 1, 2108.
  2. Daniel McCoy. Wichita City Council to consider $6 million in IRBs for industrial spec building. Wichita Business Journal, April 30, 2018. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/04/30/wichita-city-council-to-consider-6-million-in-irbs.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  4. For more on this, see LeRoy, Greg. The Great American Jobs Scam. Especially chapter two, titled Site Location 101: How Companies Decide Where to Expand or Relocate. The entire book may be read online at http://www.greatamericanjobsscam.com/pages/preview-book.html. A relevant excerpt: “These prisoners’ dilemma games also enable companies to create fictions about cause and effect. These fictions can be used to create public versions of how deals happened that no one can credibly contradict, because the company’s real decision-making process will never be revealed. The most important fiction to maintain, of course, is that subsidies matter in deciding where a company expands or relocates. For example, being able to send secret signals to competing cities means companies can tell contradictory stories to different cities and have no fear of being exposed. If a company really has its heart set on City A, it can tell that city that it is in the hunt, but needs to do better. Meanwhile, it can send less urgent signals to Cities B and C, even if they offered bigger packages at first. Eventually, City A offers the biggest package, and the company announces its decision to go there.”

Wichita tourism fee budget

The Wichita City Council will consider a budget for the city’s tourism fee paid by hotel guests.

If you stay at a hotel in Wichita, you’ll pay sales tax of 7.5 percent, hotel tax (transient guest tax) of 6.00 percent, and since 2015, a tourism fee of 2.75 percent. The tourism fee arises from the city’s creating of a Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), with boundaries matching those of the city. 1 Funds collected from this fee go to Visit Wichita, the city’s visitor and convention bureau. (Of note, the TBID ordinance specifies that if the tax is itemized on hotel bills, it is to be called the “Tourism Fee.” Everyone pays, even those who are not tourists.) (Also, some hotels are in Community Improvement Districts, charging up to another 2 percent.)

Coming to Wichita for business. (Click for a larger version.)

This week the Wichita City Council will consider the budget for the use of this tourism fee revenue. 2 City documents (the agenda packet) show actual results and goals for economic impact. As can be seen in the nearby excerpt, for leisure travel in 2017, Visit Wichita claims $81,343,227 in economic impact. This figure comes from summing identifiable dollars, which comes to $20,433,737. Then a multiplier is applied to produce the economic impact. All this results in a return of investment of $53 dollars for every dollar of investment (“Media Leisure Investment”), Visit Wichita says. (This is for the “leisure” market segment only. There are separate goals and statistics for group travel, which is meetings, conventions, or sporting events.)

This data represents what is called “incremental” travel, for which Visit Wichita takes credit: “The rate of travel by those who are ‘unaware’ is considered the base rate of travel, which would have been achieved if no advertising were placed. Any travel above this base by ‘aware’ households is considered influenced — or the rate of incremental travel.” 3

As for the performance of the overall Wichita hotel market, growth is slow. Looking at growth in hotel tax collections, only two of the ten largest markets in Kansas have grown slower than Wichita. This is since January 1, 2015, which was when the tourism fee started. (Hotel tax collections collected by the Kansas Department of Revenue do not include local taxes like the city tourism fee.)

Further, if we were expecting a boost in hotel sales from the recent hosting of NCAA basketball tournament games, that didn’t happen. See Effect of NCAA basketball tournament on Wichita hotel tax revenues.

Kansas transient guest tax collections are available in an interactive visualization here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita, Ordinance No. 49-677. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/CityClerk/OrdanicesDocuments/49-677%20TBID%20Ordinance%20-%20version%204.pdf.
  2. Wichita city council agenda packet for May 1, 2018.
  3. City council agenda packet.

Liquor tax and the NCAA basketball tournament in Wichita

Liquor enforcement tax collections provide insight into the economic impact of hosting NCAA basketball tournament games in Wichita.

In Kansas, a tax is collected at liquor stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores on the sale of alcoholic beverages. The same tax is also collected on sales to clubs, drinking establishments, and caterers by distributors. 1 This tax is called the liquor enforcement tax. The rate has been 8 percent since 1983, when it was raised from 4 percent. 2

This tax provides some insight into the level of sales of alcoholic beverages at bars, clubs, and restaurants. It is not a perfect measurement of that, and perhaps not even a very good measurement, as it also includes sales at retail outlets for consumption offsite.

Nonetheless, it’s data we have. The Kansas Department of Revenue provides this data on a monthly basis for each county. With the touted influx of visitors for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in Wichita in May — along with the generalized party atmosphere — we might to expect to see these tax collections rise during March. Here’s what happened.

The liquor tax collections exhibit pronounced seasonality, so it’s useful to compare the same month of the previous year, as follows for Sedgwick County:

March 2017: $1,315,653
March 2018: $1,085,214
Change: -$230,439, a decline of 17.5 percent.

Not only was March 2018 lower than March 2017, it was lower than five of the previous six months of March.

The monthly average for the 12 months prior to March 2018 was $1,243,793. March 2018 didn’t meet that standard.

Kansas liquor enforcement tax collections are available in an interactive visualization here.

Liquor enforcement tax collections in Sedgwick County. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. “Liquor Enforcement or Sales Tax. The second level of taxation is the enforcement or sales tax, which is imposed on the gross receipts from the sale of liquor or CMB to consumers by retail liquor dealers and grocery and convenience stores; and to clubs, drinking establishments, and caterers by distributors.”
    Also: “Enforcement. Enforcement tax is an in-lieu-of sales tax imposed at the rate of 8 percent on the gross receipts of the sale of liquor to consumers and on the gross receipts from the sale of liquor and CMB to clubs, drinking establishments, and caterers by distributors.
    A consumer purchasing a $10 bottle of wine at a liquor store is going to pay 80 cents in enforcement tax.
    The club owner buying the case of light wine (who already had paid the 30 cents per gallon gallonage tax as part of his acquisition cost) also now would pay the 8 percent enforcement tax.”
    Kansas Legislative Research Department. Kansas Legislator Briefing Book 2017. Available at http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/Publications/BriefingBook/2017Briefs/J-4-LiquorTaxes.pdf.
  2. Kansas Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association. A Brief Review of Alcoholic Beverages in Kansas. Available at http://www.kwswa.org/KSBeverageAlcoholHistory.pdf.

Effect of NCAA basketball tournament on Wichita hotel tax revenues

Hotel tax collections provide an indication of the economic impact of hosting a major basketball tournament.

The Kansas Department of Revenue has released transient guest tax collections for March 2018. This is a tax added to hotel bills in addition to sales tax. The rate in Kansas is 6.00 percent, although some localities add additional tax to that.

For the city of Wichita, here are the collections:

March 2017: $538,539
March 2018: $543,844
Increase: $5,305 or 0.99 percent

With the hotel tax at 6.00 percent, that increase implies additional sales of $88,417 for the same month of the prior year. (The 2.75% tourism fee that is also added to Wichita hotel bills is paid directly to the city, so it does not appear in the statistics from the Kansas Department of Revenue.)

While an increase from the same month of the previous year is good, the average monthly hotel tax collections for the year before (March 2017 through February 2018) was $590,770.

So March 2018 didn’t exceed the average month of the previous year. It also didn’t exceed March 2016. Whatever was happening in Wichita during that month, the city generated $665,854 in hotel taxes.

Kansas transient guest tax collections are available in an interactive visualization here.

Wichita hotel tax collections. Click for larger.

Why Wichita may not have the workforce

If Wichita-area companies can’t fill jobs, the declining labor force may be the reason. Who is responsible?

The Chung Report has a recent article noting the low unemployment rate in Wichita. That may make it difficult to fill jobs: “Wichita also has a low unemployment rate, which has seen steep decline in the past five years and now sets at 3.9 percent, below the national average of 4.1 percent. So even if companies are dead set on hiring, do we have the available workforce?” 1

It’s a useful article. But where it could be better, especially when discussing how Wichita companies will find workers to fill anticipated new jobs, is to note the shrinking Wichita labor force.

Here is a table of data for the Wichita MSA from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 2 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.” 3

I chose the year ending January 2011 as a comparison point, as it is near the low point of the great recession. Since then, the unemployment rate has fallen greatly, and is just half the rate of 2010.

But that isn’t the total story. It isn’t even the most important part of the story. Since the unemployment rate is 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. The labor force has fallen, and by a lot, while employment growth has been modest.

In fact, of the changes, we can say that 35.2 percent of the change in the unemployment rate is due to new jobs, while 67.8 percent of the change is due to a smaller labor force.

So when Wichita leaders ask “Do we have the workforce?” the answer might be no. The next question ought to be “Why not?”

Our leaders are quick and eager to take credit for economic development gains. But what about the shrinking labor force caused by the many of the same leaders and their policies?

As the proverb says, “Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.”


Notes

  1. The Chung Report. Predicting Future Jobs. Available at https://thechungreport.com/where-are-all-the-new-jobs/.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Available at https://www.bls.gov/lau/.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/.

Project Wichita, remember Visioneering Wichita

As Project Wichita gets ready to gather information and set goals, let’s be aware that we’ve done this before, and not long ago.

Project Wichita is a new initiative to do something about the future of Wichita. I hope it works. But we’ve been down this road before, and I don’t know of anything created that has been of lasting value.

That past effort was Visioneering Wichita. I’d supply a link to its website, but the site went stale from lack of updates. Eventually it was abandoned, although its remnants may be found at archive.org. (Visioneering Wichita does have a Facebook page, although it hasn’t been updated for eight years.)

Here’s one of the goals that Visioneering Wichita created for the city:

Income Growth: The Wichita MSA must increase its focus on those non-manufacturing job sectors that generate higher pay. Since 2002, the Wichita per capita income as a percent of the United States per capita income has slowly increased, and in 2006 and 2007, the value exceeded 100%, for the first time since 1987.16 In spite of the recent uptick in Wichita’s per capita income as a percentage of the United States, it is expected that it will continue the longer term decline c until: a) the decline in manufacturing jobs stops b) the gap between the United States and Wichita in non-manufacturing earnings per job begins to decrease and c) the gap in minority income is decreased. 1

Charts from Visioneering Wichita, May 2009. Click for larger.

Per Capita Personal Income, Wichita and Visioneering Peers. Click for larger.
I’ve gathered data on per capita personal income through 2016, the latest year for a full year of data, and prepared charts similar to those Visioneering used. Wichita per capita personal income continues to be lower than the cities identified as Visioneering peers, except for Oklahoma City. In fact, Wichita per capita personal income was lower in 2016 than in 2014.

Wichita and United States Per Capita Personal Income. Click for larger.
Comparing Wichita to the nation, we see that Wichita took a downturn the past few years.

Personal Income, Wichita and Visioneering Peers. Click for larger.
Per capita measures, while useful, are not without caveats that need to be understood and considered. For example, if half the people of Wichita moved to other cities, the per capita income would not change if the income of those who left was evenly distributed compared to the original distribution.

Staff of the Visioneering Wichita project used to provide updates on these statistics from time to time. The last update provided to officials that I can recall was in 2013.

Wichita civilian labor force through January 2018. Click for larger.
Speaking of moving from Wichita, one of the things our region needs to address is the shrinking labor force. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the Wichita labor force is on the decline, while it is rising for the nation.

Of the declining labor force, Wichita government and civic leaders use this in two different, and conflicting, ways. First, the declining labor force means that even though job growth is very low, the unemployment rate has dropped, and by a lot. This improved unemployment rate is trumpeted by politicians and bureaucrats. Second, we see concern that Wichita may not have the workers necessary to fill jobs in expanding companies like Spirit Aerosystems. This is used to promote increasing spending on incentives and training infrastructure.

Wichita manufacturing jobs, through January 2018. Click for larger.
By the way, the Visioneering report mentioned the decline in manufacturing jobs. The data shows that since the end of the Great Recession, the number of manufacturing jobs in the Wichita area is slowly declining, while rising for the nation at the same time.

Perhaps the best thing Project Wichita could do is to reveal the truth about the Wichita economy and the economic development infrastructure we’ve built. The Chung Report has done a bit of this. But I don’t think our civic leaders act as through they know and understand. It is against their self-interest to admit that what they’ve done hasn’t been working.


Notes

  1. Visioneering Wichita Revised Vision Document, May 2009.

Free standing emergency department about to open in Wichita

A project in Wichita received substantial subsidy from taxpayers. How have public policy issues been reported?

Free standing emergency rooms are a recent trend in medical care. This is a facility that has equipment, personnel, and capability like a traditional hospital emergency room, but is not connected to a hospital. The first in Wichita is nearly ready to open, on Twenty-first Street east of Webb Road.

Regarding the Wichita facility, the Wichita Business Journal quoted Malik Idbeis, chief information officer for Kansas Medical Center: “We see a lot of patients from the northeast side of Wichita. We thought it’d be nice to bring our style of care closer to them. There are a lot of neighborhoods and families in that area.” 1

Here, the spokesman is promoting that facility is located convenient to (affluent) families in northeast Wichita. That wasn’t the argument made to the Wichita City Council last year when the facility applied for tax relief through the Industrial Revenue Bonds program. At that time, the facility was pitched as an attraction that would serve many out-of-town customers. City documents reported: “The current Economic Development Policy requires medical facilities to attract at least 30% of patients from outside the Wichita MSA. Kansas Medical Center reviewed the location of patients utilizing the emergency room in Andover, which revealed that 37% come from outside the Wichita MSA.” 2

It seems a stretch to assume that the demographic characteristics of a hospital in Andover would also apply to an emergency room in Wichita, but the city council accepted this reasoning.

Aside from this, the Wichita Business Journal article contains problems in its reporting of public policy issues. The reporter wrote: “Last summer, the Wichita City Council authorized issuing industrial revenue bonds for the project to help finance land and construction costs. With IRBs, the city serves as a pass-through entity for developers to obtain a lower interest rate on projects. IRBs require no taxpayer commitment.” (For background on IRBs in Kansas, see Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas.)

It’s not likely the facility will save on interest costs with IRBs. It might save if the bonds were non-taxable, but these bonds are taxable, according to the agenda packet for this item. The article is correct in that IRBs require no taxpayer commitment — at least superficially. Here, I believe the reporter is letting readers know that the city makes no guarantee as to the bond repayment. If the city guaranteed repayment, that would help the borrower obtain a lower interest rate. But there is no guarantee.

Instead, the benefit of the IRB program is lower taxes. The city estimates the first-year property tax savings to be $61,882, allocated this way: City of Wichita: $17,226. State of Kansas: $792. Sedgwick County: $5,520. USD 259 (Wichita public school district): $28,345. Savings like this would be realized for five years, plus another five years if employment commitments are met.

This property tax forgiveness is, in many ways, a “taxpayer commitment.” If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.

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.

But through the Industrial Revenue Bond program, properties don’t pay property tax. (In the case of this facility, the property tax abatement is limited to 88 percent of the full tax burden.)

Yet, this new facility will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But it won’t be paying property tax to support these services (except for the 12 percent not abated). Others will have to pay this cost.

We’re left with an uncomfortable and awkward circumstance. City officials tell us that we must pay property tax so the city can provide services. (In fact, last year the Wichita city manager recommended increasing property taxes to pay for more police officers.)

At the same time, however, the city creates special classes of people who use services but don’t pay for them.

Often the justification for economic development incentives is economic necessity, that is, the project could not be built without the incentive. That argument was not made for this project.

Free standing emergency rooms

Free standing emergency departments are controversial. The notes to this article hold references to news articles and academic studies looking at the costs and usage of these facilities. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Researchers note that the emergency rooms are much more expensive than traditional doctor offices or urgent care facilities, yet many of the diagnoses made at the ERs are the same as made at non-emergency facilities.


Notes

  1. Heck, Josh. Medical group sets opening date for free-standing ER. Wichita Business Journal. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/04/06/medical-group-sets-opening-date-for-free-standing.html.
  2. City of Wichita. Request for Letter of Intent for Industrial Revenue Bonds (E Wichita Properties, LLC/Kansas Medical Center, LLC). City Council agenda packet for June 6, 2017.
  3. NBC News. You Thought It Was An Urgent Care Center, Until You Got the Bill. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-care/you-thought-it-was-urgent-care-center-until-you-got-n750906.
  4. Carolyn Y. Johnson. Free-standing ERs offer care without the wait. But patients can still pay $6,800 to treat a cut. Washington Post, May 7, 2017. Available at http://wapo.st/2pUCskD?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.21bb76a447aa.
  5. Rice, Sabriya.Texans overpaid for some medical services by thousands, study says. Dallas Morning News. Available at https://www.dallasnews.com/business/health-care/2017/03/23/texans-overpaid-medical-services-thousands-study-said.
  6. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. Rice U. Study: Freestanding Emergency Departments In Texas Deliver Costly Care, ‘Sticker Shock’. Available at https://www.bcbstx.com/company-info/news/news?lid=j0s5sm9d.
  7. Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc. Dissecting the Cost of a Freestanding Emergency Department Visit. Available at https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/ucaoa.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/Alan_Ayers_Blog/UCAOA_Ayers_Blog_FSED_Pricin.pdf.
  8. Michael L. Callaham. Editor in Chief Overview: A Controversy About Freestanding Emergency Departments. Annals of Emergency Medicine, Volume 70, Issue 6, 2017, pp. 843-845. Available at http://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(17)31505-6/fulltext.
  9. Ho, Vivian et al. Comparing Utilization and Costs of Care in Freestanding Emergency Departments, Hospital Emergency Departments, and Urgent Care Centers. Annals of Emergency Medicine, Volume 70 , Issue 6 , 846 – 857.e3. Available at http://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(16)31522-0/fulltext.
  10. Jeremiah D. Schuur, Donald M. Yealy, Michael L. Callaham. Comparing Freestanding Emergency Departments, Hospital-Based Emergency Departments, and Urgent Care in Texas: Apples, Oranges, or Lemons? Annals of Emergency Medicine, Volume 70, Issue 6, 2017, pp. 858-861. Available at http://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(17)30473-0/fulltext.

Wichita baseball consulting contract extension may have no discussion

The City of Wichita proposes to extend a baseball consulting contract without public explanation or discussion.

Wichita city leaders want a better baseball team, not to mention a new stadium. To help find a minor league baseball team, the city engaged a consultant last October. 1 That contract called for a spending limit of $50,000. 2

You may have noticed that there has not been an announcement of a team. It also appears that the $50,000 spending cap of the October contract has been reached (or nearly so). So next Tuesday the city council will consider spending (up to) another $50,000 with the same consultant. 3

Why the need for a contract extension? City documents explain: “Over the course of the past six months, Beacon has made successful inroads into the affiliated baseball community presenting the opportunities for MiLB and its teams. Due to the success in attracting the interest of affiliated baseball, staff believes it is imperative to further pursue affiliated baseball discussions with the assistance and expertise of Beacon Sports Capital Partners, LLC.”

I’m afraid I just don’t understand. The consultant’s effort has been successful, says the city, but yet there is no team. It’s really puzzling because last August Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell was confident there would be an announcement before the end of 2017:

“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.” 4

That confidence was expressed before the engagement of the consultant in October.

Consent agenda, again

The city council will deal with this matter on its consent agenda. A consent agenda is a group of items — perhaps as many as two dozen or so — that are voted on in bulk with a single vote. An item on a consent agenda will be explained and discussed only if a council member requests the item to be “pulled.” If that is done, there will be discussion. Then the item might be withdrawn, delayed, voted on by itself, or folded back into the consent agenda with the other items.

“Pulling” an item is uncommon, as items on consent agendas are not controversial, at least according to the city’s reasoning. I suppose that applies to this item, as the first contract with this consultant was also handled on the consent agenda. And on March 27 the council authorized the spending of over $7 million on a consent agenda item. 5


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/consultant-help-wichita-confidence-factor/.
  2. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract.” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for October 24, 2017. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/10-24-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  3. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract Amendment.” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for April 10, 2018. Agenda Report No. II-15. Available at <a href=”http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/04-10-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  4. Salazar, Daniel. Expect affiliated baseball team announcement by end of 2017, Wichita mayor says. Wichita Eagle, August 29, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article170095417.html.
  5. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, spending semi-secret. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-spending-semi-secret/.

Project Wichita right to look ahead at city’s future

We can understand self-serving politicians and bureaucrats. It’s what they do. But a city’s newspaper editorial board ought to be concerned with the truth.

In February the Wichita Eagle editorialized about Project Wichita, a ramping-up effort to do something about the future of Wichita. 1 It’s worthwhile to take a look at the op-ed, if only to learn something about the quality of Wichita Eagle editorial writing.

I understand civic boosterism; the desire to paint a positive image of the future. But this rosy outlook has to be based, at least loosely, on facts. Following, a look at a few claims made in the editorial.

“Our downtown is becoming more of a destination and place to live.”
The problem is this: Wichita economic development officials use a circuitous method of estimating the population of downtown Wichita, producing a number much higher than Census Bureau estimates. Downtown Wichita, the city’s economic development agency responsible for downtown, says the population of downtown is 2,138, which is far — really far — outside the range the Census Bureau gives. For more about this, see Living in downtown Wichita.

As far as a destination for business, the U.S. Census Bureau tracks business trends by zip code. For zip code 67202, which is downtown Wichita, results since 2007 show fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. For more about this, see Downtown Wichita business trends.

Further, Wichita leaders have exaggerated the number of people working in downtown. For years our leaders told us there were 26,000 daytime workers in downtown Wichita. But this claim is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. In fact, this figure is now omitted from the state of downtown reports. No one will accept responsibility for this mistake. See Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of and Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data.

“But Wichita feels pretty good about itself, which suggests the community is at the perfect time to think about its future.”
I have to say, we’ve been hoodwinked, and by our top leaders. Recently both the mayor of Wichita and chair of the county commission penned upbeat editorials praising our economy. See Mayor Longwell’s pep talk and Sedgwick County’s David Dennis on economic development.

But the reality is quite different. See:

Given this, why do the mayor, county commission chair, and our newspaper’s editorial board say what they do? The first two are politicians, but we ought to ask that our newspaper seek the truth, not personal political gain.

“It will get more serious in March, when students and volunteers from Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center …”
This is the same organization on which the city relies for many services, including the gathering of public input in past campaigns like the 2014 sales tax election. The city seemed sure that tax would pass, but voters rejected it by a wide margin. 2

“Public Policy director Misty Bruckner and her group will deliver feedback and conclusions to Project Wichita’s four co-chairs.”
A few years ago Bruckner co-authored a paper titled “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities.” 3 My reporting on it was titled Wichita needs more, and willing, taxpayers. An excerpt: “Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.” (emphasis added)

Please don’t fault me for being cynical when I suspect that this entire operation is designed to prepare Wichitans (or the region) for a tax increase.

“Community input will be as wide as the city limits.”
Wait a moment. I thought we were supposed to think regionally.

“Project Wichita seems similar to Visioneering Wichita …”
I wonder if anyone remembers anything positive that resulted from Visioneering Wichita. After a few years, the organization’s website went stale, and staff discontinued making presentation to the city council and county commission See Visioneering asks for money. Let’s ask these questions.

“Unlike Visioneering, Project Wichita isn’t headed by city or county government.”
Visioneering Wichita was led by the Chamber of Commerce, not government. Local governments made financial contributions to Visioneering, just as they are also contributing to Project Wichita. 4


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle Editorial Board. Project Wichita right to look ahead at city’s future. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article198178899.html.
  2. Ryan, Kelsey. Voters soundly defeat Wichita sales tax proposal. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article3567045.html.
  3. See http://www.gfoa.org/sites/default/files/GFR_OCT_10_24.pdf.
  4. Wichita Business Journal. Sedgwick County Commission approves Visioneering Wichita funding. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/blog/2012/12/sedgwick-county-commission-approves.html.