Tag Archives: Sedgwick county government

The finances of Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita

A truthful accounting of the finances of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita shows a large loss. Despite hosting the NCAA basketball tournament, the arena’s “net income” fell.

The true state of the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita are not often a subject of public discussion. Arena boosters cite a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and it hides the true economics of the arena. What’s missing is depreciation expense.

Intrust Bank Arena Payments to Sedgwick County. Click for larger
There are at least two ways of looking at the finance of the arena. Nearly all attention is given to the “profit” (or loss) earned by the arena for the county according to an operating agreement between the county and SMG, a company that operates the arena.

This agreement specifies a revenue sharing mechanism between the county and SMG. For 2108, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit, or “net building income,” of $647,634 to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county. The county’s share was $123,817. 1

Intrust Bank Arena Payments to Sedgwick County. Click for larger.
While described as “profit” by many, this payment does not represent any sort of “profit” or “earnings” in the usual sense. In fact, the introductory letter that accompanies these calculations warns readers that these are “not intended to be a complete presentation of INTRUST Bank Arena’s financial position and results of operations in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.” 2

That bears repeating: This is not a reckoning of profit and loss in any recognized sense. It is simply an agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG as to how SMG is to be paid, and how the county participates.

A much better reckoning of the economics of the Intrust Bank Arena can be found in the 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Sedgwick County. 3 This document holds additional information about the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena. The CAFR, as described by the county, “… is a review of what occurred financially last year. In that respect, it is a report card of our ability to manage our financial resources.”

Regarding the arena in 2018, the CAFR states:

The Arena Fund represents the activity of the INTRUST Bank Arena. The facility is operated by a private company; the County incurs expenses only for certain capital improvements or major repairs and depreciation, and receives as revenue only a share of profits earned by the operator, if any, and naming rights fees. The Arena Fund had an operating loss of $4.5 million. The loss can be attributed to $4.8 million in depreciation expense.

Financial statements in the same document show that $4,783,229 was charged for depreciation in 2017. If we subtract the SMG payment to the county of $123,817 from depreciation expense, we learn that the Intrust Bank Arena lost $4,659,412 in 2018.

(Of note, 2018 was the year the arena hosted a round of NCAA men’s basketball tournament games. For that year, the payment from SMG to the county was down by 58.8 percent from $300,414 in 2017. Attendance rose by 4.2 percent.)

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. That is, Sedgwick County did not write a check for $4,659,412 to pay depreciation expense. Instead, depreciation accounting provides a way to recognize and account for the cost of long-lived assets over their lifespan. It provides a way to recognize opportunity costs, that is, what could be done with our resources if not spent on the arena.

But not many of our civic leaders recognize this, at least publicly. We — frequently — observe our governmental and civic leaders telling us that we must “run government like a business.” The county’s financial report makes mention of this: “Sedgwick County has one business-type activity, the Arena fund. Net position for fiscal year 2018 decreased by $4.7 million to $151.6 million. Of that $151.6 million, $142.9 million is invested in capital assets. The decrease can be attributed to depreciation, which was $4.8 million.” 4 (emphasis added)

At the same time, these leaders avoid frank and realistic discussion of economic facts. As an example, in years past Commissioner Dave Unruh made remarks that illustrate the severe misunderstanding under which he and almost everyone labor regarding the nature of spending on the arena: “I want to underscore the fact that the citizens of Sedgwick County voted to pay for this facility in advance. And so not having debt service on it is just a huge benefit to our government and to the citizens, so we can go forward without having to having to worry about making those payments and still show positive cash flow. So it’s still a great benefit to our community and I’m still pleased with this report.”

The contention — witting or not — is that the capital investment of $183,625,241 (not including an operating and maintenance reserve) in the arena is merely a historical artifact, something that happened in the past, something that has no bearing today. There is no opportunity cost, according to this view. This attitude, however, disrespects the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to raise those funds. Since Kansas is one of the few states that adds sales tax to food, low-income households paid extra sales tax on their groceries to pay for the arena — an arena where they may not be able to afford tickets.

Any honest accounting or reckoning of the performance of Intrust Bank Arena must take depreciation into account. While Unruh is correct that depreciation expense is not a cash expense that affects cash flow, it is an economic reality that can’t be ignored — except by politicians, apparently. The Wichita Eagle and Wichita Business Journal aid in promoting this deception.

The upshot: We’re evaluating government and making decisions based on incomplete and false information, just to gratify the egos of self-serving politicians and bureaucrats.

Reporting on Intrust Bank Arena financial data

In February 2015 the Wichita Eagle reported: “The arena’s net income for 2014 came in at $122,853, all of which will go to SMG, the company that operates the facility under contract with the county, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said Wednesday.” A reading of the minutes for the February 11 meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission finds Holt mentioning depreciation expense not a single time. Neither did the Eagle article.

In December 2014, in a look at the first five years of the arena, its manager told the Wichita Eagle this: “‘We know from a financial standpoint, the building has been successful. Every year, it’s always been in the black, and there are a lot of buildings that don’t have that, so it’s a great achievement,’ said A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager.”

The Wichita Eagle opinion page hasn’t been helpful, with Rhonda Holman opining with thoughts like this: “Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits.” (For some years, the county paid to create a large “check” for publicity purposes.)

That followed her op-ed from a year before, when she wrote: “And, of course, Intrust Bank Arena has the uncommon advantage among public facilities of having already been paid for, via a 30-month, 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2004 that actually went away as scheduled.” That thinking, of course, ignores the economic reality of depreciation.

In 2018, the Wichita Eagle reported, based on partial-year results: “Intrust Bank Arena remains profitable but is reporting a 20 percent drop in income this year, despite a bump from the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. Net income for the first three quarters of this year was about $556,000. That’s down from just shy of $700,000 last year, according to a report to the Sedgwick County Commission.” 5 This use of “profitable” is based only on the special revenue-sharing agreement, not generally accepted accounting principles.

Even our city’s business press — which ought to know better — writes headlines like Intrust Bank Arena tops $1.1M in net income for 2015 without mentioning depreciation expense or explaining the non-conforming accounting methods used to derive this number.

All of these examples are deficient in an important way: They contribute confusion to the search for truthful accounting of the arena’s finances. Recognizing depreciation expense is vital to understanding profit or loss, we’re not doing that.


Notes

  1. The Operations of INTRUST Bank Arena, as Managed by SMG. Independent Auditor’s Report and Special-Purpose Financial Statements. December 31, 2018. Available here.
  2. Ibid, pages 4 and 7.
  3. Sedgwick County. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the County of Sedgwick, Kansas for the Year ended December 31, 2018. Available at https://www.sedgwickcounty.org/finance/comprehensive-annual-financial-reports/.
  4. CAFR, page A-10.
  5. Lefler, Dion. Despite March Madness, Intrust Bank Arena profit down 20 percent. December 7, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article222300675.html.

More Wichita planning on tap

We should be wary of government planning in general. But when those who have been managing and planning the foundering Wichita-area economy want to step up their management of resources, we risk compounding our problems.

As announced by the City of Wichita, “In response to recent recommendations from Project Wichita and the Century II Citizens Advisory Committee, community organizations and their leadership are stepping forward to take the next step to create a comprehensive master plan and vision that connects projects and both banks of the Arkansas River.”

The city says these organizations will be involved:

We should note that these organizations have been responsible for developing the Wichita-area economy for many years. Despite recent developments like Cargill and Spirit Aerosystems, the Wichita economy has performed below the nation. While improving, our economic growth is perhaps half the national rate, and just two years ago Wichita lost jobs and population, and economic output fell.

Thus, the question is this: Why these organizations?

Then, recent behavior by the city, specifically surrounding the new ballpark, has resulted in a loss of credibility. Few seem happy with the city’s conduct. To this day, we still do not know the identities of the partners except for one.

In the future, can we trust the city and its partners are telling us the truth, and the whole truth?

Then, there are the problems with government planning. Randal O’Toole is an expert on the problems with government planning. His book The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future

Planning seems like a good thing. But O’Toole tells us the problem with government plans: “Everybody plans. But private plans are flexible, and we happily change them when new information arises. In contrast, special interest groups ensure that the government plans benefiting them do not change — no matter how costly.”

He continues: “Like any other organization, government agencies need to plan their budgets and short-term projects. But they fail when they write comprehensive plans (which try to account for all side effects), long-range plans (two to 50 years or more), or plans that attempt to control other people’s land and resources. Many plans try to do all three.”

Other problems with government planning as identified by O’Toole (and many others):

  • Planners have no better insight into the future than anyone else
  • Planners will not pay the costs they impose on other people
  • Unlike planners, markets can cope with complexity

Some will argue that the organizations listed above are not government entities and shouldn’t exhibit the problems inherent with government planning. But their plans will undoubtedly need to be approved by, and enforced by, government.

Further, some of these organizations are funded substantially or nearly entirely by government, are in favor of more government (such as higher taxation and regulation), and campaign vigorously for candidates who support more taxes and planning.

Following, from Randal O’Toole as published in 2007.

Government Plans Don’t Work

By Randal O’Toole

Unlike planners, markets can cope with complexity and change.

After more than 30 years of reviewing government plans, including forest plans, park plans, watershed plans, wildlife plans, energy plans, urban plans, and transportation plans, I’ve concluded that government planning almost always does more harm than good.

Most government plans are so full of fabrications and unsupportable assumptions that they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, much less the millions of dollars taxpayers spend to have them written. Federal, state, and local governments should repeal planning laws and shut down planning offices.

Everybody plans. But private plans are flexible, and we happily change them when new information arises. In contrast, special interest groups ensure that the government plans benefiting them do not change — no matter how costly.

Like any other organization, government agencies need to plan their budgets and short-term projects. But they fail when they write comprehensive plans (which try to account for all side effects), long-range plans (two to 50 years or more), or plans that attempt to control other people’s land and resources. Many plans try to do all three.

Comprehensive plans fail because forests, watersheds, and cities are simply too complicated for anyone to understand. Chaos science reveals that very tiny differences in initial conditions can lead to huge differences in outcomes — that’s why megaprojects such as Boston’s Big Dig go so far over budget.

Long-range plans fail because planners have no better insight into the future than anyone else, so their plans will be as wrong as their predictions are.

Planning of other people’s land and resources fails because planners will not pay the costs they impose on other people, so they have no incentive to find the best answers.

Most of the nation’s 32,000 professional planners graduated from schools that are closely affiliated with colleges of architecture, giving them an undue faith in design. This means many plans put enormous efforts into trying to control urban design while they neglect other tools that could solve social problems at a much lower cost.

For example, planners propose to reduce automotive air pollution by increasing population densities to reduce driving. Yet the nation’s densest urban area, Los Angeles, which is seven times as dense as the least dense areas, has only 8 percent less commuting by auto. In contrast, technological improvements over the past 40 years, which planners often ignore, have reduced the pollution caused by some cars by 99 percent.

Some of the worst plans today are so-called growth-management plans prepared by states and metropolitan areas. They try to control who gets to develop their land and exactly what those developments should look like, including their population densities and mixtures of residential, retail, commercial, and other uses. “The most effective plans are drawn with such precision that only the architectural detail is left to future designers,” says a popular planning book.

About a dozen states require or encourage urban areas to write such plans. Those states have some of the nation’s least affordable housing, while most states and regions that haven’t written such plans mostly have very affordable housing. The reason is simple: planning limits the supply of new housing, which drives up the price of all housing and leads to housing bubbles.

In states with growth-management laws, median housing prices in 2006 were typically 4 to 8 times median family incomes. In most states without such laws, median home prices are only 2 to 3 times median family incomes.

Few people realize that the recent housing bubble, which affected mainly regions with growth-management planning, was caused by planners trying to socially engineer cities. Yet it has done little to protect open space, reduce driving, or do any of the other things promised.

Politicians use government planning to allocate scarce resources on a large scale. Instead, they should make sure that markets — based on prices, incentives, and property rights — work.

Private ownership of wildlife could save endangered species such as the black-footed ferret, North America’s most-endangered mammal. Variably priced toll roads have helped reduce congestion. Pollution markets do far more to clean the air than exhortations to drive less. Giving people freedom to use their property, and ensuring only that their use does not harm others, will keep housing affordable.

Unlike planners, markets can cope with complexity. Futures markets cushion the results of unexpected changes. Markets do not preclude government ownership, but the best-managed government programs are funded out of user fees that effectively make government managers act like private owners. Rather than passing the buck by turning sticky problems over to government planners, policymakers should make sure markets give people what they want.

State of the City, Wichita: Employment strength

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell’s State of the City video relies on flimsy evidence and plucks scant good news from a sea of bad. This is a problem.

Recently Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell delivered the State of the City video. It was posted to YouTube on March 28, 2019, and may be viewed here.

In this video, the mayor said, “The recent Livability.com study measured employment rates strength over time, affordability, and community amenities.” This isn’t the first time the mayor and other city officials have mentioned this study, if we can even call it that. 1 In January, a tweet from the official @CityofWichita Twitter account contained: “We have been named one of the top two recession-proof cities in the nation by @Livability. Wichita was praised for its ability to withstand turbulence in the national economy, steady job growth and the state’s low income-to-debt ratio.” 2

What does the data tell us? The nearby chart illustrates that since the end of the last recession, job growth in Wichita has been below job growth in the nation as a whole. Generally, job growth in Wichita has been at about half the rate of the nation. In 2017, Wichita lost jobs. Yet, City of Wichita officials, including Mayor Longwell, tout “steady job growth,” relying on a study that obviously isn’t based on evidence.

Click for larger.

The mayor also said: “Wichita’s unemployment rate is at a historically low 3.5%, and WSU forecasts that Wichita is expected to see an across-the-board increase in overall jobs this year.”

Look at the data. In this table, we see that the unemployment rate (monthly average) for 2018 is nearly unchanged from 1999. Also nearly unchanged for these 19 years are the civilian labor force and number of jobs. Both values are slightly lower now. This is not “steady job growth,” as Wichita officials proclaim. It is stagnation.

It’s not only employment that has been bad news. In 2017 the Wichita economy contracted, which is the definition of a recession. 3 Personal income has grown only slowly. 4

Regarding jobs, the mayor accurately reports what the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University forecast said: Jobs are forecast to rise in Wichita for 2019. 5 Specifically, the report said: “Wichita is estimated to add approximately 2,500 jobs in 2018, and growth is projected to increase modestly to 0.9 percent in 2019, with more than 2,700 new jobs added.”

Is 0.9 percent job growth good? Nationally, the economy is expected to continue strong growth, although perhaps slightly slower than in 2018. 6 Nationally, job growth is forecast at 1.7 percent for 2019. 7 Wichita’s forecast rate of 0.9 percent is 53 percent of the national rate.

It’s good news that jobs are set to grow rather than shrink. But in a surging national economy, that’s setting a low standard for success.

What’s unfortunate is the mayor and city promote things like this as good news. But when we use readily accessible data from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the United States Department of Labor) and Bureau of Economic Analysis (a division of the United States Department of Commerce), we easily see that we’re not being told the entire story. “Recession-proof” glosses over recent years of declining production. “Historically low” unemployment rates ignore a stagnant and declining labor force. “An across-the-board increase in overall jobs this year” doesn’t contextualize that the forecast rate of growth for Wichita is anemic compared to the nation.

What we need to know is this: Are the mayor and city officials aware of the actual statistics, or are they ignorant?


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita, a recession-proof city. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-recession-proof-city/.
  2. Twitter, January 22, 2019. https://twitter.com/CityofWichita/status/1087832893274157059.
  3. “For 2017, the Wichita metropolitan area GDP, in real dollars, fell by 1.4 percent. Revised statistics for 2016 indicate growth of 3.8 percent for that year. Last year BEA reported growth of -1.4 percent.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks, and a revision. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks-and-revision/.
  4. “For all metropolitan areas in the United States, personal income rose by 4.5 percent. For the Wichita metro area, the increase was 2.3 percent. Of 383 metropolitan areas, Wichita’s growth rate was at position 342.” Weeks, Bob. *Personal income in Wichita rises, but slowly. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/personal-income-in-wichita-rises-but-slowly/.
  5. Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. Wichita Employment Forecast. January 8, 2019. Available at http://www.cedbr.org/forecast-blog/forecasts-wichita/1558-economic-outlook-wichita-2019-january-revision.
  6. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee. December 18-19, 2018. Available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20181219.htm.
  7. Yandle, Bruce. Block out the noise: Here’s the 2019 economic outlook. Available at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/block-out-the-noise-heres-the-2019-economic-outlook.

Wichita jobs and employment, March 2019

For the Wichita metropolitan area in March 2019, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is unchanged when compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a small decline in jobs from February.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving, but also mixed, employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Click charts and tables for larger versions.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 296,000 last March to 300,700 this March. That’s an increase of 4,700 jobs, or 1.6 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 1.7 percent.

The unemployment rate in March 2019 was 3.9 percent, the same as one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by persons (0.0 percent) in March 2019 from February 2019, the number of unemployed persons rose by 149 (1.3 percent), and the unemployment rate rose from 3.7 percent to 3.8 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms fell to 299,597 in March from 299,738 the prior month, a decline of 141 persons, or 0.0 percent.

The following chart of the monthly change in labor force and employment shows a general decline over the past year, with some recent months of losses for both measures.

The following chart of changes from the same month one year ago shows recent declines in the rate of growth.

Looking at the charts of changes in employment year-over-year, we see some months in the past year where Wichita outperformed the nation. That last happened in 2012.

State of the City, Wichita: The bright future

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell’s State of the City video doesn’t seem to be based on reality.

Recently Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell delivered the State of the City video. It was posted to YouTube on March 28, 2019, and may be viewed here.

Not long into the address, the mayor says, “… we must embrace the challenges we face and forge ahead into the bright future that is just around the corner.”

Wichita MSA population, percent change from prior year. Click for larger.
On that bright future: Since the mayor spoke, learned that the Wichita metropolitan area lost population during the year ending July 1, 2018. 1 So at the time of the address, Longwell didn’t know the area had lost population, but he should have known that the trend of population growth has been slowing, as can be seen in the nearby chart.

What about the population of Wichita city proper, as that is the jurisdiction the mayor was elected to represent? (It’s better to look at the MSA, for a number of reasons. 2 For one, several major “Wichita” employers are not located within the Wichita city limits. Major portions of Spirit Aerosystems, for example, lie outside the city, and the city certainly takes credit for job creation there.)

Wichita and top 100 city population, annual change. Click for larger.
City populations are available through July 1, 2017. 3 From 2011 to 2017, the top 100 cities averaged annual growth of 1.03 percent. For the City of Wichita, the average was 0.29 percent, barely more than one-fourth the rate. (Wichita was the 50th largest city in 2017.) The trendline of growth for Wichita is down, as it is for the top 100 cities in general.

We have to ask: With a population growing much slower than the nation — and declining in the most recent year — what is the future of Wichita?

More importantly: Is Mayor Longwell aware of these statistics, and if so, why does he not recognize them? I hope this isn’t what he means by “embrace the challenges.”


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita population falls; outmigration continues. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-population-falls-outmigration-continues/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita metropolitan area population in context. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-metropolitan-area-population-in-context/.
  3. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places of 50,000 or More, Ranked by July 1, 2017 Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017 U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. Release Date: May 2018

Wichita aerospace manufacturing concentration

Wichita leaders want to diversify the area economy. Has there been progress?

One way to measure concentration of an industry in a location is by the proportion of employment in that industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides employment by industry for metropolitan areas. I’ve gathered the data for the Wichita MSA for two industries: Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing (NAICS code 3364) and all manufacturing. I’ve gathered this data for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area and compare it to total private sector employment. This data is not adjusted for seasonality, as some is available only in that manner.

Click for larger.
Click for larger.

As the charts illustrate, there was a large shift in the two industry’s share of employment around the time of the Great Recession. Since then, the ratios have been more stable, with a slow decline until a small reversal of that trend over the last year.

The chart of employment ratio changes from the same month one year ago confirms: Manufacturing and aerospace employment has grown faster than total private employment in the recent year or so.

Click for larger.

Another way to measure concentration of an industry is through location quotients. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides these, most notably for counties as part of the Quarterly of Census and Wages. 1 As described by BLS, “Location quotients are useful for studying the composition of jobs in an area relative to the average, or for finding areas that have high concentrations of jobs in certain occupations. As measured here, a location quotient shows the occupation’s share of an area’s employment relative to the national average.” 2

Further: “For example, a location quotient of 2.0 indicates that an occupation accounts for twice the share of employment in the area than it does nationally, and a location quotient of 0.5 indicates the area’s share of employment in the occupation is half the national share.”

This data is available by industry. I’ve gathered data for Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing (NAICS code 3364) for Sedgwick County and present it in a nearby chart.

First, note that the location quotient is large, 30 or more. This means the concentration of workers in this industry in Sedgwick county is over 30 times the concentration nationwide.

Second, the location quotient fell from 2007 through 2014. Since then, it has been steady.

Has the Wichita area diversified its economy? Based on these two measures, the answer is yes. That increased in diversity happened at the same time as a large decline in aviation-related employment, that decline being larger than the decline in all Wichita-area private-sector employment. That was not planned or desired. It was a result of worldwide trends. But since then, concentration in aviation-related employment has changed little, and shows signs of increasing concentration.

From General Aviation Manufacturers Association.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cew/datatoc.htm.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Using Location Quotients to Analyze Occupational Data. Available at https://www.bls.gov/oes/highlight_location_quotients.htm.

Wichita population falls; outmigration continues

The population of the Wichita MSA fell from 2017 to 2018, and net domestic migration continues at a high level.

New data from the United States Census Bureau shows the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area losing population from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018.

The population estimate for 2017 was 645,628, and for 2018, 644,888. This is a decline of 740 persons, or -0.10 percent. Population changes in the seven years before 2018 averaged 0.30 percent each year.

The Wichita MSA ranked 89th largest among 383 metro areas, falling from rank 82 as recently as 2011.

Net domestic migration for the Wichita metro area showed a loss of 3,023 persons, or 0.47 percent of the population. This change, on a proportional basis, was 301st among the 383 metro areas. It is less than the loss of 3,235 persons the year before.

Click charts for larger versions.

Wichita MSA population and change from prior year.
Wichita MSA population, percent change from prior year.
Rank of Wichita MSA population.
Rank of Wichita MSA population one-year change.
Wichita MSA net domestic migration.

Wichita jobs and employment, February 2019

For the Wichita metropolitan area in February 2019, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is down when compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a return to job growth.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 295,400 last February to 300,700 this February. That’s an increase of 5,300 jobs, or 1.8 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 1.7 percent.

The unemployment rate in February 2019 was 3.9 percent, down from 4.2 percent from one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 1,115 persons (0.4 percent) in February 2019 from January 2019, the number of unemployed persons fell by 64 (-0.5 percent), and the unemployment rate fell from 3.9 percent to 3.8 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms rose to 300,080 in February from 298,01 the prior month, an increase of 1,179 persons, or 0.4 percent.

Looking at the charts of changes in employment year-over-year, we see some months in the past year where Wichita outperformed the nation. That last happened in 2012.

Click charts for larger versions.

Wichita and national jobs

Growth of employment in Wichita compared to the nation.

Overall, since 2001 — roughly the end of the Great Recession — Wichita has been gaining jobs, evidence being its trend line above zero in the nearby chart which shows the change in jobs over the same month one year ago. But the line has not always been above zero, indicating months where the Wichita metropolitan area had fewer jobs than the year before.

Since that time, Wichita’s growth rate has almost always been below the nation’s rate, and by no small amount. The state of Kansas has been lagging behind the nation, too.

Click for larger.

Wichita jobs and employment, January 2019

For the Wichita metropolitan area in January 2019, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is unchanged when compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a slowdown in the rate of job growth and a rising unemployment rate.

Data released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a mostly improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area, although some areas are not improving.

Click for larger.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 292,900 last January to 297,900 this January. That’s an increase of 5,000 jobs, or 1.7 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 2.0 percent.

The unemployment rate in January 2019 was 4.1 percent, unchanged from one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 739 persons (0.2 percent) in January 2019 from December 2018, the number of unemployed persons rose by 769 6.8 percent), and the unemployment rate rose from 3.6 percent to 3.9 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms fell to 299,090 in January from 299,120 the prior month, a decrease of 30 persons, or 0.0 percent.

BLS is revising some data and presented this monthly release in a slightly different format than usual.

Click charts for larger versions.

Sedgwick County job growth exceeds national rate

In the third quarter of 2018, Sedgwick County quarterly job growth exceeded the national rate for the first time in nearly ten years.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, show an improving jobs picture for Sedgwick County.

Data from the Bureau’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program show that from September 2017 to September 2018, Sedgwick County gained 5,200 jobs, which is a rate of 1.9 percent, as calculated by BLS. For the nation, growth was 1.6 percent.

While the rate in Sedgwick County for the third quarter of 2018 exceeded the national rate, for the most recent four quarters the average rate for Sedgwick County was 0.85 percent, and 1.55 percent for the nation. This was the first quarter since 2009 in which Sedgwick County job growth outpaced the nation.

Average weekly wages in Sedgwick County increased by 3.8 percent over the year to $880. For the nation, wages rose by 3.3 percent to $1,055.

Click charts for larger versions.

Sedgwick County Commission needs to slow down, get things right

Sedgwick County needs to make sure past issues are known and settled before proceeding with hiring a new county manager, writes former commissioner Richard Ranzau.

While most members of the Sedgwick County Commission are eager to move on from events of the past two years, it’s important to know what really happened. Some important questions:

  • A majority of commissioners wanted to fire former manager Michael Scholes, with chair David Dennis presenting Scholes with an ultimatum on September 28, 2018. Later, in November, the same commissioners hired an outside law firm to investigate Scholes so that a politically correct reason could be given for his dismissal. We need to know more about the real reason why commissioners wanted to fire Scholes.

  • What is contained within the report (identified in county documents as “Management study – Stinson, Leonard & Street”) used as the cover for firing Scholes? The county will not supply the document, citing attorney-client privilege and personnel confidentiality. This allows commissioners to make all sorts of claims that we can’t verify. For example: The many high-level employees that purportedly quit because of Scholes — can’t we get even one name?

  • Some conclusions from the Stinson report has been leaked, and the bad conduct by Scholes was really quite minor.

  • The Wichita Eagle has reported: “Commission Chairman David Dennis said Wednesday [November 26, 2018] that he’s ready to move forward with a probe examining commissioners’ actions and whether they’ve contributed to low morale and an exodus of top county employees.” As Ranzau writes below, the commission is being asked to cancel this investigation.

County Commission needs to slow down, get things right
By Richard Ranzau

Members of the Sedgwick County Commission have two very important decisions to make, and they need to get them both right.

First, they need to decide if they are going to conduct the badly needed ethics investigation into commissioner misconduct that occurred in 2017 and 2018. Previously, the Commission voted to conduct this investigation but they have yet to follow through. Failed leadership and improper behavior by the some of the commissioners during those years has led to multiple FBI investigations and a soon to be completed KOMA investigation by the District Attorney’s office. The reputation of the Commission has been shattered.

Public faith and confidence in this once highly respected organization can only be restored if the Commission hires an outside entity to investigate unethical and inappropriate commissioner behavior and to make recommendations for policy changes that could deter future misconduct. This must be an honest and sincere effort by the Commissioners to find out the truth, no matter how painful it may be.

All staff members and employees should be allowed to fully participate in the investigation without fear of repercussion. Senior staff members with extensive knowledge of what happened, including the interim county manager, should be supportive of this investigation and provide honest and candid information about what they know.

Citizens may wonder why we need another investigation, given that an expensive effort was recently completed and used to justify the dismissal of the previous county manager. But that investigation was a sham. A majority of commissioners had already decided to fire the manager. They needed an investigation to cover up their real reasons for firing him. This is the behavior that needs to be exposed.

This investigation needs to be completed BEFORE the Commission makes its second important decision: hiring a new county manager.

The current rush to appoint the interim county manager without a nationwide search is imprudent for multiple reasons. First, he has intimate knowledge of what happened over the last two years and the public needs to be assured that he will fully support and participate in the ethics investigation.

Secondly, there is an ongoing effort by four commissioners to put forth a public vote to rescind the decision to proceed with an investigation. Commissioner Howell is being pressed to support this effort, not only by the Chairman, but also the interim county manager and county counselor. In fact, the interim county manager has asked Commissioner Howell to make the motion to end the investigation.

The fact that the interim county manager would try to coordinate a vote to stop an ethics investigation that he would be a key witness in is as surprising as it is troubling. He knows what happened and he shared many of the same concerns as the previous county manager and county counselor. So why would he support and COORDINATE an effort to cancel this badly needed investigation? Is he under pressure by commissioners?

The timing of this effort to stop the ethics investigation coupled with the rush to hire a potentially key witness as the new county manager, certainly raises the question as to whether or not there is a quid pro quo going on. I certainly hope this is not the case, but the optics are horrible. The commission does not need another scandal or coverup.

The Sedgwick County Commission and interim county manager need to take a step back and reconsider what they are doing. Everyone involved needs to demonstrate the courage to do what is right for the community. It is imperative they demonstrate a commitment to open, transparent, and ethical government.

The citizens need to have confidence that the shenanigans of the past, are in fact, in the past. We can’t afford to have the Commission get this wrong.

Wichita jobs and employment, December 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in December 2018, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is down when compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a slowdown in the rate of job growth and a rising unemployment rate.

Data released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a mostly improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 296,900 last December to 302,300 this December. That’s an increase of 5,800 jobs, or 2.0 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 1.8 percent.

The unemployment rate in December 2018 was 3.4 percent, down from 3.5 percent one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 596 persons (0.2 percent) in December 2018 from November 2018, the number of unemployed persons fell by 394 (3.6 percent), and the unemployment rate rose from 3.5 percent to 3.6 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms rose to 299,120 in December from 298,918 the prior month, an increase of 202 persons, or 0.1 percent.

Click charts for larger versions.

Retiring Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh praised

The praise for retired Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh can’t be based on our region’s accomplishments under his guidance. That is, if people are informed and truthful.

In January a group of Wichita business leaders submitted an op-ed to the Wichita Eagle to mark the retirement of Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh. I quote portions here, with emphasis added:

He easily won re-election because his constituents and the rest of us knew he was dedicated to strengthening our community, region and the state.

In economic development Commissioner Unruh was chairman in 2006 when the board voted to build a world-class technical-education facility to ensure we remained competitive for new jobs. The National Center for Aviation Training is home to the growing WSU Tech. He also championed smart economic development programs that generated additional tax dollars and regional cooperation through REAP and other efforts.

In his perseverance to get things done and his belief in our future, he’s made a difference.

On Sunday, the Wichita Eagle published a drawing by cartoonist Richard Crowson which lauded Unruh’s championing of the Intrust Bank Arena, Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place, and mental health services. Responding on his Facebook profile, Commissioner Michael O’Donnell wrote this for public consumption:

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in” I believe this Greek proverb sums up the leadership of Dave Unruh as much as this stupendous Wichita Eagle cartoon. Our community has been blessed by the selfless and indelible leadership of Dave Unruh. I believe he was the most consequential local leader in our region for the last 2 decades and those of us fortunate enough to live in Sedgwick County are able to sit under the countless trees which Dave planted for us and our families for generations to come.

There’s another way to look at the Dave Unruh legacy in Sedgwick County, and that is through the lens of data. A shiny downtown area is nice, but not as nice as a prospering economy. Here are some figures.

In 2001, the year when Unruh assumed office in its first month, the median household income in Sedgwick County was higher than that of both Kansas and the United States. By 2017, Unruh’s last full year on the commission, Sedgwick County had fallen behind both, and by significant margins.

In 2001, the poverty rate in Sedgwick County was lower than that for the nation. By 2017, the situation was reversed: The Sedgwick County poverty rate is now higher, and significantly higher.

Looking at other measures of prosperity, we see Sedgwick County falling behind during the time Unruh was in office. Gross domestic product, personal income, per capita personal income, population, total employment, wage and salary employment, and manufacturing employment: In all these measures Sedgwick County underperformed the nation, and usually the State of Kansas. (GDP is available only for the Wichita metropolitan area, which is dominated by Sedgwick County.)

By himself, Dave Unruh isn’t responsible for this economic performance. Many others contributed at Wichita City Hall and the Kansas Capitol, as well as some of Unruh’s colleagues on the Sedgwick County Commission. Unruh and they supported the interventionist, corporatist model of economic development, and it hasn’t worked. That’s why it’s surprising to see so much praise for Unruh. It’s sad, too, because if business leaders and politicians really believe the “Unruh way” is the way that works, the outlook for our region is bleak.

Wichita migration not improving

Data from the United States Census Bureau shows that the Wichita metropolitan area has lost many people to domestic migration, and the situation is not improving.

The Wichita metropolitan area population is growing, but at a rate slower than most metro areas. From 2010 to 2017, the Wichita metro area grew in population by 2.3 percent. For all U.S. metro areas, the population growth was 6.5 percent. Of the 382 metropolitan areas, Wichita ranked 245.

Considering just the change from 2016 to 2017, Wichita’s population grew by 0.1 percent, ranking 268 of the 382 metro areas. All U.S. metro areas grew by 0.8 percent over the same period.

For net domestic migration, Wichita experienced a loss of 2.9 percent of its population from 2010 to 2017. This ranked 295 among metro areas. For 2016 to 2017, Wichita lost 0.5 percent, ranking 293, nearly unchanged from the larger earlier period.

This slow population growth and out-migration is happening at the same time Wichita-area leaders tell us that we have great momentum going forward. But the data — domestic migration, employment, gross domestic product, and personal income — don’t support what our leaders tell us.

I get it: We want to be optimistic about our future. But a false optimism is dangerous. It makes us complacent, even proud, when actual accomplishments don’t support that. We may be led to believe that what our leaders are doing is working, when it isn’t working. That is dangerous.

Politicians and bureaucrats can’t be trusted to be frank and truthful about this. They want to be reelected and keep their jobs. Their actions let us know they value their jobs more than the prosperity of Wichitans.

Wichita employment to grow in 2019

Jobs are forecasted to grow in Wichita in 2019, but the forecasted rate is low.

The forecast for Wichita metro area employment in 2019 calls for modest growth of 0.9 percent, according to the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. 1 This follows growth of 0.8 percent in 2018. 2

Nationally, the economy is expected to continue strong growth. 3

The nearby chart illustrates that since the end of the last recession, job growth in Wichita has been below job growth in the nation as a whole. Generally, job growth in Wichita has been at about half the rate of the nation. In 2017, Wichita lost jobs.

Click for larger.

Of Wichita job growth in 2018, the CEDBR forecast notes, “This marked a return to the level of growth experienced in the Wichita area from 2012 to 2016, after experiencing a contraction in overall employment in 2017.” The average annual rate of job growth for those years in Wichita was 0.83 percent. It was 1.82 percent for the nation, which is 2.2 times the rate for Wichita.

CEDBR also notes, “Wichita’s unemployment rate declined throughout 2018 to a low of 3.5 percent in October 2018, the lowest unemployment rate for the area since 1999.” We should note that this decline is primarily due to a declining labor force in Wichita, rather than robust job growth.


Notes

  1. Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. Wichita Employment Forecast. January 8, 2019. Available at http://www.cedbr.org/forecast-blog/forecasts-wichita/1558-economic-outlook-wichita-2019-january-revision.
  2. Employment figures are not available for December 2018, so I use a crude estimate for that month.
  3. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee. December 18-19, 2018. Available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20181219.htm.

Unruh recollections disputed

A former Sedgwick County Commissioner disputes the narrative told by a retiring commissioner.

By Karl Peterjohn
A version of this appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Lame duck county commissioner Dave Unruh’s recent commentary (“It’s time to set the record straight.” December 14, 2018 Wichita Eagle.) is an attempt to re-write county commission history. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Here are county commission facts correcting the commentary fiction:

Commissioner Unruh was deeply involved in both the hiring, and recent firing, of county manager Scholes by Commissioner Unruh. I know because I was involved in Scholes’ hiring, but as a citizen, publicly opposed the firing of General Scholes, as well as county counselor, Judge Eric Yost in 2018.

The group of county manager candidates were evaluated by all five county commissioners three years ago. Three county commissioners ranked General Scholes as the best candidate. Commissioner Unruh was one of these three commissioners.

I wasn’t one of these three. While I ranked General Scholes highly, I ranked one other candidate as slightly better in our final candidate evaluations. I readily admit that I was very comfortable in agreeing with my three colleagues in hiring General Scholes. This was followed by all five commissioners: Unruh, Tim Norton, Jim Howell, Richard Ranzau, and myself voting to hire General Scholes.

Commissioner Unruh’s inaccurate commentary is part of an effort to provide an excuse for the scandalous mess that has engulfed the current county commission majority resulting in a variety of FBI and state investigations after Commissioner Michael O’Donnell’s criminal indictments. However, only Commissioner Unruh was part of the current commission majority (Unruh, O’Donnell, and David Dennis) involved in both this hiring, and supporting the firing of both General Scholes, and the county counselor, Judge Eric Yost.

This is important because there also seems to be some confusion by Commissioner Dennis about the powers of former Sedgwick County Commissioners like myself. In December, Commissioner Dennis publicly claimed that I was in some way responsible for this personnel debacle and the financial mess created by the current progressive-moderate commission majority in firing first Judge Yost, and then General Scholes.

I reject this ludicrous claim. My impact on Sedgwick County finances ended the day I left the commission in January, 2017. Anyone on the county commission who claims otherwise is trying to hide their own malfeasance. I believe that Commissioner Dennis should apologize to me for his fabulist statement. Sedgwick County citizens also deserve an apology for this commission majority’s misconduct in mishandling county staff, and finances. I have asked Commissioner Dennis for an apology for his statement attacking me, and publicly do so again with this letter.

Taxpayers will miss Richard Ranzau

When a county commissioner’s questions produce a reversal of the county manager’s spending plans, you know we have good representation.

That’s what happened in 2013 when the county manager wanted to spend $47,000 to clear some trees. Commissioner Richard Ranzau thought the expense should be the responsibility of the neighborhood that would benefit from what he thought was a thinly-veiled request to shove off spending to the county.

What did the county manager say after Ranzau’s questions?

“We got out in front of ourselves without doing much critical thinking, and I take full responsibility for that,” Sedgwick County Manager Bill Buchanan said.

Good job, Richard Ranzau. You will be missed as a member of the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners.

Wichita employment, November 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in November 2018, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is down, compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a slowdown in the rate of job growth.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a mostly improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 296,700 last November to 302,200 this November. That’s an increase of 5,500 jobs, or 1.9 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 1.6 percent.

The unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, down from 3.6 percent one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 391 persons (0.1 percent) in November 2018 from October 2018, the number of unemployed persons fell by 8 (0.1 percent), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms rose to 298,749 in November from 298,350 the prior month, an increase of 399 persons, or 0.1 percent.

Click charts for larger versions.

Sedgwick County tops $434K in extra personnel costs

Sedgwick County has spent $434,663 in costs relating to the separations of two members of top management.

Through December 21, 2018, Sedgwick County had spent $434,663 on matters relating to former County Counselor Eric Yost and former County Manager Michael Scholes. The bulk of the costs were severance payments to both. There was also $89,375 for a study of matters related to county management. Additionally, there were attorney fees for Yost, Scholes, and all county commissioners except Michael O’Donnell.

Click here to view the report prepared by county financial staff.