Tag Archives: Wichita State University

Wichita State University controversy continues

A full-page advertisement critical of the leadership of Wichita State University, from “Advocates for Integrity, Transparency and Accountability,” appearing in the Wichita Eagle, Sunday June 3, 2018. For the advertisement as it appeared in the newspaper, click here.

This is part of a continuing series of advertisements debating the course of Wichita State University. For previous ads, see:

PAID POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT

WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY, IT’S TIME TO LIFT THE SHADE

A growing number of alumni, faculty, staff and citizens are concerned about decisions being made at Wichita State University. As higher education becomes more complex, transparency, shared governance and civility are just that much more important. The following are some of the concerns that have been gathered from a much longer list:

  • When the WSU Administration sold the idea of the YMCA Wellness Center on the Innovation Campus to the Student Government Association, did they explain how many years the student annual commitment of $5 million would apply? Students are going to be paying the full operational costs of the building and likely will have contributed $20 million before the facility is even completed. A 20-year commitment, as an example, would cost students $100 million, 40-years, $200 million. Should student fees be expected to fund Innovation Campus projects of this magnitude? Is there an agreement in place? Where is it? If it exists, who signed it? Can it be adjusted?

  • When Fairmount Towers, an old but serviceable low-cost residence hall was closed to protect investors in The Flats (a private luxury apartment building on the Innovation Campus that on its own had produced fewer than 50 contracts) four annual bond payments of $875,000 each were left outstanding, totaling $3,500,000. This debt service will have to be covered. What is the source of the payments, now that the student housing fees that previously serviced the debt have been redirected to The Flats? If the debt has been covered, from which pocket did that come from?

  • The University president has said he is no longer worried about headcount enrollment because “it doesn’t mean much anymore”. Even so, during his tenure, the University has invested a minimum of three million dollars in a multi-year agreement with the Royall and Company enrollment program (headquartered in Richmond, Virginia) for that very purpose, producing little if any discernible results. What is the payment source for this investment?

  • President Bardo lately has seemed dismissive of the role of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He asked whether anyone would wish the University would be an “elite” liberal arts college, apparently failing to recognize that Liberal Arts and Sciences has provided the foundation for every educated student who has attended since 1895. When did excellence in this college cease to be less important than excellence on the Innovation Campus or elsewhere on the campus? Faculty and staff in Liberal Arts and Sciences feel they have borne the the brunt of budget cuts when state funding has declined, and there has been no noticeable administrative effort to restore academic positions. Is this perception accurate? If so, how can it be justified? The Innovation Campus offers only a small fragment of the education occurring at Wichita State.

  • Prior administrations utilized the majority of the City of Wichita/Sedgwick County mill levy tax appropriation allocated to WSU for student scholarships. In 2013, 57% of that allocation went toward student support and 32.6% to capital improvements ($800,000 to NIAR and $1.6 million to debt service). The budget for 2018 indicates the elimination of debt service obligations, resulting in $1.6 million in available funds that could have been restored to its original purpose of funding scholarships. Instead, allocations for WSU Innovation Campus increased from $513,036 in 2017 to $2,317,061 for 2018, an increase of 351%. The dollar amount for student support remained the same. Why did this administration choose not to return the mill levy funding back to its original purpose by increasing scholarship funding for students in Sedgwick County?

  • In 2016, an “Ideas Lab” to be housed in Henrion Hall was announced by the College of Fine Arts and enthusiastically supported by the central administration and WSU Foundation. It was intended to be a collaborative approach for teaching creative industries, using innovative methods and materials. Faculty were very excited about the possibilities, noting there was nothing like it in this region of the country. Representatives from the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation objected because in their view it was too similar to “GoCreate”, a Koch gift located elsewhere on the campus. As a result, even after the earlier public endorsement of the University, the project was canceled. How is putting such control in the hands of Koch good for WSU?

  • The use of corporate entities, Wichita State University Innovation Alliance and Wichita State Innovation Alliance Investment, Inc., to manage the Innovation Campus obscures the risks undertaken by WSU by investing in commercial entities and letting sub-leases that can create obligations in the form of debt, liability or lost opportunities for decades. The resources committed to these activities belong to WSU. Leases and sub-leases related to these resources should be subject to open records laws. Why are these documents being kept from public scrutiny? Who benefits from this arrangement? Have we built alliances with persons and entities who do not share our founding principles?

  • Why have conflict of interest issues among executives and representatives of corporations with whom WSU has entered into contracts gone undisclosed until discovered and reported from outside sources? (e.g. According to the Management Review for Wichita State University report to the Kansas Board of Regents, “As Dr. John Tomblin has many roles with the University, WSIA, WSIAIC, The National Institute of Aviation Research (“NIAR”), and personally owned entities, there is an increased risk for conflicts of interest with respect to time, compensation and fiduciary duty. For example, Dr. Tomblin and his wife own 29.33% of Aero Point Technologies, LLC (“Aero Point”). The University owns the rights and intends to exclusively license Aero Point’s technology.” Prior to this finding by BKD, the Conflict of Interest Policy then in place only required Dr. Tomblin to disclose the conflict if his ownership exceeded 35%. What was the rationale for choosing 35% as the threshold for disclosing a conflict of interest? Has a new, more robust and responsible conflict of interest policy been issued?

  • There is a climate of fear and retribution on campus. The administration has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle personnel issues when staff and faculty members were forced to leave. Settlement was made subject to the signing of a non-disclosure agreement. What gave rise to this demoralizing environment and what is being done to correct it?

This ad was not written by enemies of Wichita State University, but by people who care.

This ad was paid for by

Advocates for Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

Anne Woods – Treasurer | P.O. Box 8714 | Wichita, KS 67208 | 316-688-1889

PAID POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT

Wichita in ‘Best Cities for Jobs 2018’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wichita has momentum, they say

Despite this news, Wichita leaders are in denial. Recently Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr told a group of young people this:

From the innovation campus at Wichita State University and development along the Arkansas River in downtown, including a new baseball stadium, to the conversations happening now about a new convention center and performing arts facility, Fluhr said the momentum is pushing to keep Wichita on par with the development of other communities around the country.

That development, which has in recent years expanded to incorporate the entire region, is a critical component to attracting and retaining talent — the exact kind of talent in the ICT Millennial Summit crowd. 3

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

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

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

In announcing his candidacy for Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita city council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said, “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.” 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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


Notes

  1. “The methodology for our 2018 ranking largely corresponds to that used in previous years. We seek to measure the robustness of metro areas’ growth both recently and over time, with some minor corrections to mitigate the volatility that the Great Recession has introduced into the earlier parts of the time series. The ranking is based on three-month rolling averages of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ‘state and area’ unadjusted employment data reported from November 2006 to January 2018.” 2018 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005973-2018-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  2. 2017 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005618-2017-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  3. Daniel McCoy. ICT Millennial Summit: Wichita is having a moment. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/11/30/ict-millennial-summit-wichita-is-having-a-moment.html.
  4. Heck, Josh. Emerging Leaders panel offers insight into eco-devo strategies. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/01/11/emerging-leaders-panel-offers-insight-into-eco.html.
  5. David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html.
  6. Wichita is moving forward. March 1, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article135573253.html.
  7. Bill Wilson. Wichita council member unveils bid for county commission. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/02/13/wichita-council-member-unveils-bid-for-county.html.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita personal income up, a little. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-personal-income-up-2016/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Wichita unemployment rate falls. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-unemployment-rate-falls-2018-03/.
  11. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  12. In some presentations these figures may differ slightly due to data revisions and methods of aggregation. These differences are small and not material.

Wichita State University thinking innovatively, says ad

A full-page advertisement defending the leadership of Wichita State University, from “Friends of the University,” appearing in the Wichita Eagle, Sunday April 22, 2018. For the advertisement as it appeared in the newspaper, click here. For the advertisement from the week before, which criticized the university leadership, click on Wichita State University degraded, says ad.

INNOVATIVE THINKING FOR TODAY’S REALITIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION

The playing field of higher education is rapidly changing. The models of the 1970s, or even 1990s, are no longer applicable. With state public funding now paying only about 35% of total educational costs, roughly half of the amount covered less than 20 years ago, universities must seek new avenues of revenue and partnerships, enabling delivery of high quality education across their campuses.

Wichita State University, under President John Bardo, is on the leading edge of this forward-thinking concept. The WSU innovation campus, creation of WSU Tech, and a number of other initiatives recently launched will provide the pathway to ongoing success, not merely for the University but all of Wichita and South Central Kansas, for decades to come.

For the record, we support Doctor Bardo and his colleagues who are bringing highly favorable national recognition to our community, while assuring Wichita State’s ability to continue to prepare students with knowledge and skills for successful careers in all academic areas.

Loyal Shockers in Support of our University and its Leadership
Al Higdon, treasurer, 1513 Foliage Court, Wichita, Ks. 316-650-8665

We the undersigned endorse and have paid for this message, in the best interest of Wichita State University, its students, faculty and staff, as well as for the prosperity of our greater community.

There followed a list of signatories. Also:
Paid political advertisement

Wichita State University degraded, says ad

A full-page advertisement critical of the leadership of Wichita State University, from “Friends of the University,” appearing in the Wichita Eagle, Sunday April 15, 2018. For the advertisement as it appeared in the newspaper, click here.

WHOSE UNIVERSITY IS IT ANYWAY?

As Kansans and taxpayers, we protest the degradation of our public democratic institution, Wichita State University. The current university leaders have eroded the bedrock policies and values upon which the university was founded.

Some examples:

  • With their intimidations and threats to underfund The Sunflower, the student newspaper, they have assaulted freedom of the press
  • With the creation of the WSU Innovation Alliance, they have sublet public university land to private developers, thereby evading the requirements of the Kansas Open Records and Open Meetings Acts
  • With their refusal to fund faculty positions in certain disciplines, they have undermined the liberal arts and sciences, an insult to the university’s original purpose
  • With their use of student fees to support the Innovation Campus, they have saddled present and future students with millions in future debt obligations
  • With their decisions to build a multi-million-dollar housing complex, and to divert 5 percent of scholarship money to non-academic purposes, they have evaded accountability to the university’s owners, the people of Kansas
  • With their use of non-credit and non-academic courses to inflate student enrollment numbers, they have undermined public confidence in their integrity — and their stewardship
  • With their allocation of a public building to a private school, they have flouted the principle that public resources be used to the public’s benefit

As Kansans, we beseech the Kansas Board of Regents to redress these abuses of the public trust, and to protect students, faculty members and community residents from further such abuses.

There followed a list of signatories, plus an indication there are some who wanted anonymity. Also:

This ad was paid for by Friends of the University.
Anne Woods — Treasurer | P.O. Box 8714 | Wichita, KS 67208 | 316-688-1889
Paid political advertisement

Project Wichita right to look ahead at city’s future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the reality is quite different. See:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes

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

WichitaLiberty.TV: WATC and WSU Tech President Sheree Utash

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) has formed an affiliation with Wichita State University, to be called the Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology, or WSU Tech. Sheree Utash, president of WATC and future president of WSU Tech, joins Karl Peterjohn to discuss these institutions. (Bob should be back next week.) View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 181, broadcast January 27, 2018.

Shownotes

Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data

The new State of Downtown Wichita report for 2017 is missing something. What is it, and why is it missing?

Recently the Wichita Business Journal reported:

When you’re Jeff Fluhr, you don’t spend much time in park — it’s usually full speed ahead.

It was no different when a couple of members of the Wichita Business Journal’s newsroom visited with the president of Downtown Wichita and the Greater Wichita Partnership in early October.

On this day, Fluhr was excited to pass out copies of the 42-page 2017 “State of Downtown” report, which had just been released. 1

The new report is something better than before. 2 Actually, it’s what is left out that marks a step forward for Downtown Wichita, which is the new name for the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation.

Downtown Wichita brochure.
Previous versions of the report prominently mentioned the number of daytime workers in downtown Wichita. 3The number most often given was 26,000. But that number is missing from this year’s report. Unless I overlooked it, there is no mention of the number of workers in downtown Wichita.

Why was this number omitted from this year’s report? Earlier this year I found out that the U.S. Census Bureau data series which was the source of this statistic is not a valid measure of the number of people working downtown. That’s because the series counts all the employees of the Wichita public school district as downtown workers solely because the district’s headquarters building is downtown. 4 This means the statistic is not valid and meaningful, because most school workers don’t work at the downtown building. Instead, they’re working in schools and other facilities dispersed throughout the district. A similar anomaly exists for Wichita city workers: All are counted as though they work in the city hall building. 5

When I asked Jeff Fluhr, the president of Downtown Wichita, about this he referred my question to Jeremy Hill, the Director of Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. This was — seemingly — reasonable as CEDBR supplied the number to Fluhr’s organization. Hill’s response was unsatisfactory in resolving the issue. In conclusion, Hill wrote to me: “Although the center systematically questions all data sources (federal, state, private, and nonprofit) for reasonableness, limited resources (e.g. time and costs) prevent us from validating and/or cross checking every statistic. In this situation, the center used the appropriate source for the research question and the total number of people estimated to work downtown was within reason.”

The Census Bureau OnTheMap application for downtown Wichita, zip code 67202. Click for larger.
LODES data for census block 201730043001036, showing 7,740 workers.
Here’s what concerns me. This data comes from a Census Bureau application called “OnTheMap.” When using the OnTheMap application for downtown Wichita, which is zip code 67202, there are two large bright blue dots that stand out from all others. These represent the two highest concentrations of workers in downtown Wichita. One is Census block 201730043001036, which has 7,740 employees. This is a one square block area from First to Second Streets, and Wichita to Water Streets. That block, for the year of this data, held the Wichita school district headquarters building.

7,740 employees is a lot. It’s about one-fourth of the total downtown employee count claimed by Downtown Wichita and CEDBR. It’s more employees than McConnell Air Force Base has, and about twice as many that work at Koch Industries in Wichita.

Importantly, this number is eleven times the number that work at Cargill, a company which Wichita is granting many millions of dollars in incentives just to retain the company in Wichita.

Promotional material on the former Henry’s building. Click for larger.
We just have to wonder: Didn’t anyone look at this data in a serious and critical manner? A quick glance at the data by CEDBR, much less “systematically” checking for “reasonableness” should have led to questions. A quick look by Downtown Wichita staff should have spurred these inquiries: Who do all these people work for in that one block? This is a wonderful success story! How can we replicate this great accomplishment in other blocks in downtown Wichita?

And didn’t anyone at the City of Wichita — council members and bureaucrats alike — wonder about these numbers?

That didn’t happen. Or maybe it did, and someone in authority nonetheless decided to proceed to use a statistic that doesn’t mean what city leaders say it means.

That’s why I wrote it was seemingly reasonable for Fluhr to refer me to CEDBR with my questions about the data. In retrospect, it is clear this is a multi-year episode of incompetence, ineptitude, or dishonesty.

But at least this statistic is no longer used.

I asked Cindy Claycomb, who is Chair of the Executive Committee of Downtown Wichita, about this. She replied that all data sources are listed in the report, and that the board relies on the expertise of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation staff to decide what is presented in each year’s report. She said Jeff Fluhr was the best person to address my concerns. He, as we saw, demurred to CEDBR at WSU.

(By the way, Claycomb is nearly certain to be elected to the Wichita City Council in November. Jeff Fluhr is now, besides president of Downtown Wichita, also president of Greater Wichita Partnership, the new organization regional governments rely on for economic development.)

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
So: How many jobs are in downtown Wichita? There is another series of census data that is better, but not perfect, as it counts private-sector employees only. That data shows 13,581 workers in downtown Wichita for 2015. 6 But what’s remarkable — and disappointing — about this data series is its trend: It’s going down. The recent peak was 16,658 workers in 2008. By 2015 that number was down by 18 percent. (Again, these are private sector workers only.)


Notes

  1. Horwath, Brian. Downtown positioned for growth, despite area’s labor issues. Wichita Business Journal, October 12, 2017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/10/12/downtown-positioned-for-growth-despite-areas-labor.html.
  2. Downtown Wichita. 2017 State of Downtown Report. Available at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2017-state-of-downtown-report-download.pdf.
  3. See, for example, the second page of the 2016 report at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2016_State_of_Downtown_Report_2.pdf.
  4. In summer 2017 the district moved its headquarters away from downtown to the former Southeast High School. It will be a few years before this is reflected in Census Bureau data.
  5. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.