In my nearly 47 years in Wichita, I have observed that city leaders have focused on that “one more thing” they think would attract and keep people in Wichita, especially young people.
In the 1970s, it was adoption of liquor by the drink, which would supposedly give us restaurants with fine cuisine. Later, local developer Jack DeBoer proposed a plan for downtown development with a waterwalk that he said would create synergy if his plan were adopted. Then came the building of more hotels downtown and a downtown arena to address a “quality of life” issue. Consultants proposed to make downtown a “walkability” area with many shopping venues. The development of Old Town and getting lower air fares are yet other examples of that “one more thing” intended to make Wichita attractive and to keep young people from leaving.
When I ask Wichita State students what would keep them here, the response is having a good-paying job. 30,000 Wichitans have lost their jobs in the last several years. The Boeing Company left Wichita. The national headquarters of Pizza Hut, Thorn America and the Coleman Company, all of which were founded in Wichita, are also gone. So are the district offices of National Cash Register and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which were here in the 1970s.
Wichita State President John Bardo’s plan for an innovation center at Wichita State will hopefully help solve the problem of too few jobs. The city of Wichita is electing a new mayor and several city council members this spring. Local officeholders and other community leaders need to focus on the lack of jobs in Wichita, which trumps all other “one more things,” to make Wichita a more attractive place in which to live.