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Downtown Wichita jobs decline

Despite heavy promotion and investment in downtown Wichita, the number of jobs continues to decline.

The United States Census Bureau has a program known as LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics, or LODES. According to the Bureau, “The LEHD program produces new, cost effective, public-use information combining federal, state and Census Bureau data on employers and employees under the Local Employment Dynamics (LED) Partnership. State and local authorities increasingly need detailed local information about their economies to make informed decisions. The LED Partnership works to fill critical data gaps and provide indicators needed by state and local authorities.”

Data is available by zipcode. This allows isolation of downtown Wichita, which usually recognized as zip code 67202. Data was released at the end of August for calendar year 2017.

What does the data tell us about downtown Wichita? As can be seen in the nearby chart, the trend in jobs is down, and down almost every year. Most notably, the number of private sector jobs has declined by 28.6 percent since 2002. (Click charts for larger versions.)

Since 2010, about the time Wichita started more aggressive promotion of downtown, the number of private sector jobs has fallen by 9.4 percent.

Of note, for the three age groups this data tracks, the jobs in group “age 55 or over” is growing, although it is numerically the smallest group.

The City of Wichita and the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area are not doing well. According to the same data set, the rate of job growth has been declining since 2012, and was near zero or negative for 2016 and 2017.

For more information on this data, and to access the interactive visualization of this data, see Visualization: Downtown Wichita jobs.

Because of the public policy aspect of this data, I asked both candidates for Wichita Mayor for a response. Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell did not respond to repeated requests. Challenger Brandon Whipple provided this by email:

Under current city leadership, our sister cities are all growing at a higher rate economically than Wichita. Wichita’s recent job growth is at .5%, compared to Oklahoma City at 3.4%, Omaha, NE at 1.9% and the national average at 1.6%. The current Mayor brags that our unemployment rate is at 3.9%, but that’s the same as the national average, which means it’s nothing to brag about. Omaha, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Des Moines all have lower unemployment than Wichita and the national average.

Wichita has competed and beat our sister cities in the past economically. We need leaders who are not afraid to compare Wichita not only to our past, but also to other mid-size cities and have the vision to again become an economic leader among them. There is no silver bullet but the first step towards economic growth is recognizing we have room to grow.

Also we’re not gaining jobs, we’re losing people. That’s nothing to brag about.

For the two institutions planning and developing policy for downtown, the city’s public information office did not respond. Jaimie Garnett, Executive Vice President of Strategic Communications, Greater Wichita Partnership provided this:

Based on how the Census Bureau collects LEHD data it can be difficult to get a true comparison of year-to-year numbers especially in smaller geographic areas. Our understanding is that how a company reports its workers can vary and that the Census Bureau gives data in each category what they call a “noise infusion” to protect individual firms’ confidentiality. When we have talked with economic groups such as WSU’s CEDBR, they consider the LEHD data the best data available while also recognizing these issues.

We’re excited about many recent Wichita area announcements from downtown to the region. For downtown Wichita, we’re pleased by the fact that the private sector made 90 percent of the investment in 2018 and over the past 10 years, the private sector made 77 percent of the investment. In addition, downtown is experiencing corporate investment and there are companies relocating to the core.

While these concerns about LEHD data are valid, I don’t believe they explain the long-term trend. Additionally, both the city, its agencies, and WSU’s CEBDR have made gross errors in using LEHD data. 1 2


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Census data for downtown Wichita workers. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/census-data-downtown-wichita-workers/.
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