For April 2018, the unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area fell, and the number of jobs grew.
Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment statistics for metropolitan areas through April 2018. These are numbers that are not seasonally adjusted, so it’s not very useful to compare any month with the month before. But it is appropriate to compare a month with the same month of the prior year.
The good news, sort of: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.6 percent in April 2018, down from 3.9 percent in April 2017. The number of unemployed persons also declined by 8.9 percent for the same period.
These numbers should be good news. But these two statistics don’t exist in a vacuum. Specifically, 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 2,676 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,071. 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 MSA economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This rose by 100 from April 2017 to April 2018, an increase of 0.03 percent. This follows a decline of 0.5 percent from March 2017 to March 2018.
For April 2018, BLS reports:
Unemployment rates were lower in April than a year earlier in 305 of the 388 metropolitan areas, higher in 63 areas, and unchanged in 20 areas, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Eighty-eight areas had jobless rates of less than 3.0 percent and three areas had rates of at least 10.0 percent. Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 312 metropolitan areas, decreased in 70 areas, and was unchanged in 6 areas. The national unemployment rate in April was 3.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted, down from 4.1 percent a year earlier. 1
An ongoing study reports that property taxes on commercial and industrial property in Wichita are high. In particular, taxes on commercial property in Wichita are among the highest in the nation.
The study is produced by Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence. It’s titled “50 State Property Tax Comparison Study, June 2017” and may be read here. It uses a variety of residential, apartment, commercial, and industrial property scenarios to analyze the nature of property taxation across the country. I’ve gathered data from selected tables for Wichita.
In Kansas, residential property is assessed at 11.5 percent of its appraised value. Commercial property is assessed at 25 percent of appraised value, and public utility property at 33 percent. (Appraised value is the market value as determined by the assessor. Assessed value is multiplied by the mill levy rates of taxing jurisdictions to compute tax.)
This means that commercial property faces 2.18 times the property tax rate as residential property. The U.S. average is 1.67. Whether higher assessment ratios on commercial property as compared to residential property is desirable public policy is a subject for debate. But because Wichita’s ratio is high, it leads to high property taxes on commercial property.
For residential property taxes, Wichita ranks below the national average. For a property valued at $150,000, the effective property tax rate in Wichita is 1.22 percent, while the national average is 1.39 percent. The results for a $300,000 property were similar.
Of note is the property taxes on a median-valued home. In this case Wichita is a bargain, due to our lower housing prices. A home at the median value in Wichita pays $1,513 in taxes, while the nationwide average is $3,343. (The median home value in Wichita is $124,400, and for the nation, $262,772, according to this report.)
Looking at commercial property, Wichita taxes are high. For example, for a $100,000 valued property, the study found that the national average for property tax is $2,319 or 1.93 percent of the property value. For Wichita the corresponding values are $3,261 or 2.72 percent, ranking ninth highest among the 50 largest cities. Wichita property taxes are 41 percent higher than the national average, for this scenario.
For industrial property taxes, the situation in Wichita is better, with Wichita ranking near the middle of the 50 largest cities. For an industrial property worth $1,000,000, taxes in Wichita are $29,681. The national average is $32,264.
There has been much public and private investment in Downtown Wichita. What has been the trend in business activity during this time?
According to the 2017 report from Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (now known as Downtown Wichita), over the past decade there has been $593,868,858 in private investment, $160,522,002 in public investment, and $171,087,276 investment in Intrust Bank Arena. That’s $925 million of investment in downtown over this period, with more before. 1
What has been the result of this investment? If you expected business growth in downtown Wichita, you may be disappointed. For the past decade business activity in downtown Wichita has been on a downhill trend. The data for 2016 is a bit of good news, with the decline stopping and business activity remaining mostly unchanged. It isn’t the vibrant growth we’ve been told is happening in downtown Wichita, but at least things are not getting worse.
The United States Census Bureau tracks business data by zip code. 2 The data that is available includes the number of business establishments, the number of employees, and the annual payroll, expressed in thousands of dollars not adjusted for inflation. It includes private-sector workers only, so it does not count all workers.
Nearby are results for zip code 67202, which has nearly the same boundaries as the Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID). This is a district that pays extra property tax for supporting the WDDC. Its boundaries, roughly, are from Kellogg north to Central, and the Arkansas River east to Washington. It is greater Downtown Wichita plus Old Town.
The results since 2007 show fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In nearly all cases for nearly all years, the trend is lower — except for 2016.
For 2016 the numbers are nearly unchanged, with only small changes from the previous year. The number of business establishments is down slightly, while the number of employees and annual payroll rose, also slightly.
Except for 2016, this is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. And 2016 represents merely a stop in the downhill slide, not growth. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising. But in estimating the population of downtown Wichita, economic development officials use a circuitous method. The result of their calculations is a population much higher than Census Bureau estimates, far outside the range of probable results. 3
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 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
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
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.
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.
“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. ↩
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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 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.
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 ↩
The unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area fell. So too did the number of jobs.
Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment statistics for metropolitan areas through March 2018. These are numbers that are not seasonally adjusted, so it’s not very useful to compare any month with the month before. But it is appropriate to compare a month with the same month of the prior year.
The good news, sort of: 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 also declined by 8.3 percent for the same period.
These numbers should be good news. But these two statistics don’t exist in a vacuum. Specifically, 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 MSA 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 had decreases, and 8 had no change.
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
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.
Wichita City Council agenda packet for May 1, 2108. ↩
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.” ↩
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.)
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.)
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 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. ↩
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.
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.”
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
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.
Comparing Wichita to the nation, we see that Wichita took a downturn the past few years.
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.
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.
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.
Visioneering Wichita Revised Vision Document, May 2009. ↩
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. 345678910
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.
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. ↩
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
“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. ↩
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.
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
One of the tables released is “Over-the-year change in total nonfarm employment for metropolitan areas, not seasonally adjusted,” which shows changes in jobs from February 2017 to February 2018. 2 For this time period for the Wichita metropolitan area, the number of nonfarm jobs fell from 294.7 thousand to 292.3 thousand, a decline of 2,400 jobs or 0.8 percent.
In February, 313 metropolitan areas had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment, 69 had decreases, and 6 had no change.
Over the same period, the unemployment rate in the Wichita MSA fell from 4.6 percent to 4.1 percent. The labor force fell from 309,336 to 304,886.
The City of Wichita property tax mill levy declined for the second year in a row.
In 1994 the City of Wichita mill levy rate — the rate at which property is taxed — was 31.290. In 2017 it was 32.667, based on the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and the Sedgwick County Clerk. That’s an increase of 1.377 mills, or 4.40 percent, since 1994. (These are for taxes levied by the City of Wichita only, and do not include any overlapping jurisdictions.)
In 2016 the mill levy was 32.685, so the mill levy dropped by .018 for 2017. That’s a drop of 0.06 percent, and while small, it’s a refreshing change. It’s also the second year in a row for a decrease in the mill levy.
The Wichita City Council does not take explicit action to set the mill levy rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to Wichita taxation.
While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. As can be seen in the chart of changes in the mill levy, the city usually decides to spend more than the previous year’s mill levy generates in taxes. Therefore, tax rates usually rise.
It’s more common for the mill levy to rise rather than to fall. In those years, the council does not take responsibility to the rise. It will be interesting to see if council members take credit for the falling mill levy this year.
An increase of 4.40 percent over two decades may not seem like much of an increase. But this is an increase in a rate of taxation, not tax revenue. As property values rise, property tax bills rise, even if the mill levy rate is unchanged.
The total amount of property tax levied is the mill levy rate multiplied by the assessed value of taxable property. This amount has risen, due to these factors:
Appreciation in the value of property
An increase in the amount of property
Spending decisions made by the Wichita City Council
Application of tax revenue has shifted
The allocation of city property tax revenue has shifted over the years. According to the 2010 City Manager’s Policy Message, page CM-2, “One mill of property tax revenue will be shifted from the Debt Service Fund to the General Fund. In 2011 and 2012, one mill of property tax will be shifted to the General Fund to provide supplemental financing. The shift will last two years, and in 2013, one mill will be shifted back to the Debt Service Fund. The additional millage will provide a combined $5 million for economic development opportunities.”
In 2005 the mill levy dedicated to debt service was 10.022. In 2017 it was 8.511. That’s a reduction of 1.511 mills (15.1 percent) of property tax revenue dedicated for paying off debt. Another interpretation of this is that in 2005, 31.4 percent of Wichita property tax revenue was dedicated to debt service. In 2017 it was 26.0 percent.
This shift has not caused the city to delay paying off debt. This city is making its scheduled payments. But we should recognize that property tax revenue that could have been used to retire debt has instead been shifted to support current spending. Instead of spending this money on current consumption — including economic development spending that has produced little result — we could have, for example, used that money to purchase some of our outstanding bonds.