Q&A with the next mayor of Wichita
On November 5, Wichita residents will elect their next leader and determine the political future of their city. Hear the candidates speak on key issues.
GET TO KNOW WICHITA’S NEXT MAYOR
On November 5, Wichita residents will elect their next leader and determine the political future of their city.
There’s a lot at stake and more than a few important issues to consider. We sat down with the candidates to find out what they think about Wichita’s economy, talent, quality of life and more.
It’s also important to note that Lyndy Wells, who placed third in the primaries and is therefore not an official candidate for the general election, is running a write-in campaign for mayor.
Here’s what you need to know about the general election candidates:
Longwell is coming into the election as the incumbent with four years of mayoral experience. Before that, he served on Wichita’s City Council for eight years and on the Maize school board for 12. In August’s primary election Longwell pulled in 32 percent of the votes.
Whipple is also an experienced politician, but at the state level where he has served in the Kansas House of Representatives since 2013. His district covers part of south Wichita. In August’s primary election Whipple brought in 26 percent of the votes.
View the conversation in three parts:
See the full transcript below.
INFRASTRUCTURE & ECONOMY
What do you believe are some of the biggest challenges Wichita faces today, and how would you act to solve them?
So, my focus right now has been on public safety, quality of life and infrastructure. Four years ago, our biggest challenge was jobs, and we heard that from people all throughout the community. But today, we have more jobs than people. And so right now, we’ve got to focus on some things that [are] going to help us fill those jobs, and that’s going to ensure that the public’s safe, to ensure that we have the kind of quality of life that’s going to attract people to this community, and keep people here. And [we] certainly want to fix up our infrastructure that, for too many years, has been neglected, and now we’re playing catch-up.
So we have quite a few challenges, to be honest. Wichita is doing well when we compare ourselves to the recession, but we have a long way to go when we compare ourselves to our sister cities in the region. One of the top issues that concerns me is the export of talented young people. It’s one of our top exports right now, and we need to make sure, as Wichita moves forward, that we retain that human capital so that we look more appealing to businesses who want to move here. So one of the things we need to do is address the brain drain, that is, our young people leaving Wichita because they don’t think that they can achieve the American Dream right here in our city. So that’s a big goal we need to overcome.
Another thing is community safety. Right now, violent crime in Wichita is more than double … the national average, and if we look at the amount of police officers we have compared to our sister cities, we are lagging behind. So we need to make this a top priority. By doing that, we need to give the Wichita police force the funding they need to not only hire the officers that they need, but also to hire trained, plain-clothed social workers to be on call for situations of mental health. If there was a situation where a social worker can identify the situation and, with their skill set, could deescalate more so than a police officer’s skill set, then we should be taking advantage of that.
What infrastructure improvements do you believe are vital to Wichita’s future, and why?
So, some of the simple ones that [have] made the news lately is we have to fix our water and sewer infrastructure, and that’s something that hasn’t been focused on, because we have a water plant that’s 70 years old. But several years ago, we took it upon ourselves to reassess all of our water infrastructure, and we said we need to do some things.
The first steps were to start replacing our underground infrastructure, and our piping, and our force mains, and those kinds of things. We wanted to make sure that we have an ability to withstand a drought, and so we’ve been focusing on the aquifer storage recharge. [In] 2016, we did an assessment of our water treatment plan and trying to decide [if] we can fix up the old one, should we build a new one, and at the end of the day they came back and recognized that we should build a new plant because we can get redundancy out of that.
We have to focus on water, and we’re getting close to that. We’ve hired a team already, and they’re well underway with the design, and we’ve been successful at negotiating this WIFIA funding, which helps us with some federal dollars that will keep our rates down. But water, sewer, streets â€” and another important piece is technology. I mean, infrastructure is going to be technology.
So a couple of weeks ago, the governor of this great state put me on an advisory committee to look at the state’s infrastructure needs over the next 10 years to focus on what the entire state needs. And so we’ve been doing local consults in different communities, and one of the things that came out of there â€” in fact, one of the most important things that came out of that â€” is we need more focus on broadband and IT infrastructure. Because it is going to play into even the roads and bridges of the future. Smart vehicles, autonomous vehicles, a GPS ability to guide tractors and vehicles, and people, are critically important in our future. We haven’t focused on that kind of technology because we too often just say infrastructure means roads and bridges. But in the next 25 years, it’s going to mean technology. And so we really do need to focus on technology, and that’s something that’s been coming out of those local consults.
Our committee’s going to be meeting over the next several months, and I’m pleased that Governor Kelly placed me on that advisory group. I appreciate her confidence in me and the rest of the committee. It’s going to be our focus to listen and come up with a plan that hopefully sets this entire state on the right path for the next 25 to 50 years.
So, really, our public transit. We need a modern public transportation system that connects the different, innovative, alternative transportation systems we are putting in place such as scooters, such as bike paths. Wouldn’t it be great though if we utilize these different modes of transportation with a new bus system that actually will allow Kansans or Wichitans to get to work and back? Where, if, let’s say, you’re dropped off at a bus stop and you have a mile to go, you can hop on one of our scooters.
Currently there is an article written in the Eagle not too long ago that shows our current bus system. We had an administrator over at WSU Tech try to take that to class. It took him about three hours to drive fifteen minutes. This is a big deal, because it’s not just taking a bus for fun.
People in my community that I represent at the legislative level, if their car breaks down, that now puts their job at risk. They might not have a second car, and they need reliable transportation to make it to work on time, to make sure that their kids have food on the table, make sure that they don’t lose their house. So it goes above and beyond just having a bus system that is functional for those who choose to ride it, because there are a lot of people who have to ride it.
If we want to grow Wichita jobs, if we want to put more people to work, then the transit system can be an intricate part of that. It starts with complimenting what we are already doing well, but also being brave enough to admit that what we’ve got going on, such as our current bus system, isn’t working and talking to experts about that.
Other cities have risen to this occasion and made the changes they need. Wichita can too.
How do you plan to diversify Wichita’s economy to support growth and stability?
So, we’ve started that diversification four years ago, and that’s what’s helped us bring in more jobs than people today, because it’s not just about aviation. So we started down a path four years ago to focus on what we call the BREG, Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth. And we’re looking at multiple sectors that we do already and, in some cases, we do to a fairly decent degree, but we’ve never focused all of our attention on those multiple sectors. And so, now, we’re focusing on those, and we’ve been very successful.
[It’s] one of the things that helped us keep Cargill. Cargill’s not an aviation company, but they chose Wichita. Hormel Meats invested nearly $50 million in Wichita. They’re not aviation but bring great paying jobs. We have IT jobs that are coming to this community. We have the Innovation Campus that’s expanding much further beyond aviation and making some inroads. But it’s that Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth that the Greater Wichita Partnership has been able to focus on that brings an entrepreneurial spirit back to Wichita, that’s looking at new kinds of startups and different sectors instead of just aviation. We’re looking at IT and transportation, and advanced manufacturing, and agriculture, and a lot of different sectors that we are well positioned [in].
One of those sectors, certainly, that we need to continue to focus on â€” because we’re smack in the middle of the United States â€” is transportation. We should be a hub for a distribution center, and we’re working on those kinds of opportunities.
We do one thing better than anyone … in the world and that’s build airplanes. Wichita does so much more than that, as well. If we can build airplanes, and if we have the human capital to be the best in the world at that, we can also be the best in the world at building other things.
So what we have to do is take a multi-prong approach. Bringing in companies that complement our current workforce, and also bragging about the people we have in Wichita. Letting the world know that we are capable of doing things at the highest level, such as aviation.
We also need to invest in our small businesses. One of the top indicators of job growth is coming from our small businesses, and when I go and talk to small businesses, they feel like they are being left behind. They think City Hall is focused more on the Boeings and on the Spirits and on the Cargills â€” and we should be focused on those â€” but also, they want to know that City Hall has their back. So we need a multi-layer approach.
One of them is to make sure that the world knows that we have the best workers in the world, particularly in aviation, particularly in building things. Bringing the complementary businesses to Wichita, but also nurturing and develop our entrepreneurs, our small businesses and the people who are creating jobs every day by executing their vision.
See the full transcript below.
TALENT & ENTREPRENEURSHIP
What is your plan for attracting more talent to Wichita?
So we had been hit harder during the recession than most cities, and that’s where the numbers are coming from. But if you just look at our numbers over the last three to four years, they’ve improved dramatically. But part of that is because of all the focus on quality of life in this community, and the renewed entrepreneurial spirit, the Innovation Campus and all that they’re doing. So there’s a number of things that we’re doing â€” and some of them seem fairly simple â€” that’s going to help our net growth. One of them is ensuring that we keep our talent here.
So we started a program four years ago, we had a program called Youth Employment Project. [We] had a hundred students â€” high school age â€” in it. This year, we’re going to train and provide internships for over a thousand students. So, in four years, we’ve moved it from a hundred to a thousand. Those kinds of opportunities are exciting because young people are saying, "I didn’t know that was available to me in Wichita." And it helps open their eyes to opportunities so that they can make the decision that "Maybe I should stay in Wichita. [There’s] great opportunity here for me."
And so we have to do those programs, and we have to combine them with some other opportunities to attract talent, and we’re pretty aggressive at doing that. I call it the AAC Talent Pool, kind of, because WSU is now in a new conference that provides us much better reach to the Dallases and Houstons and Memphises and some of the big city markets where we can truly compete now. And that’s one of the reasons we kept Cargill. They looked at the Dallases and Chicagoes and Kansas Cities, and they chose Wichita. But we think that we can get people to choose us, too. So we have a pretty aggressive plan to increase our talent pool of people, [in] sort of [a] variety of ways, but, at the end of the day, it still comes back to we have to focus on quality of life, and give people a reason to be here.
Attracting more talent to Wichita has to be a top priority. One of the things we do is, first, try to keep our talent here. Right now, over half the graduates at Wichita State University leave Kansas. Wichita is only attracting a very small percentage of graduates from KU and from K-State â€” low â€” under five percent each coming to Wichita to find opportunities. So what we have to do is, first, keep the people we have. Let people know that we have opportunities here for them to get their piece of the American Dream. Also, we need to look beyond our borders here in Kansas and try to attract young people by telling them how great Wichita is. One of the ways to do that as mayor is to be the spokesperson for Wichita â€” to be the person who is out there bragging about Wichita, talking about how great Wichita is and the opportunities we have here. I think there [are] a lot of people who just don’t know. I think that’s very important.
On a policy level, one of the things I advocated as a candidate is a non-discriminatory agreement to protect LGBTQ members of Wichita and also veterans and also active military. We’re seeing discrimination against these groups when it comes to employment and when it comes to housing. We need to make sure that we let people know that Wichita is open for business, not just for the people who are here, but for people who are looking to move here but have concerns about if they’ll be accepted.
In doing that, we can do some stuff on a policy level, but also, we need to work on our image to make sure that when people have options â€” when they can move to get a job in Wichita and Denver and Des Moines and Tulsa â€” that they can choose Wichita. They will know that they are valued, and they belong here.
What is your plan to balance supporting our large legacy companies and our new fast-growing startups.
So, again, it comes back to making sure that we have the right talent pool available for our companies â€” for all companies. And we certainly don’t want to throw aviation to the curb because it’s still important to us. But I’ll go back and fall upon what I said earlier, the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth also has to be part of our focus as we move this community forward. But it’s all going to be surrounded by how successful we are at filling the talent pipeline.
And so we have some programs that are doing that, that include some scholarships that enable people, and sometimes communities that are poverty-stricken communities that we target and say, "You’re eligible for a scholarship. We will educate you and we’ll provide you an opportunity with a great paying job." And so we’ve done that over the past four years. [It’s] been pretty successful at helping people get a hand up. That’s part of the solution that fills that talent pipeline. But there’s more of that that we will continue to focus on, but … talent’s everything.
One of the things we’ve got to do to support our startups is to ask them what they need. A lot of times we are, instead, telling them what we think they need to be successful. When I talk to start ups â€” when I talk to people who are trying to get a company into the gig economy â€” they talk about VIOS, they talk about high-speed internet. Here in Wichita, we do have high-speed internet but we don’t have VIOS that is reaching everyone. We don’t have fiber internet that is reaching everyone. For example, fiber internet doesn’t come to South Wichita in my neighborhood.
So, if I wanted to open up a technology-based business that uploads and downloads large files to the cloud, and I’m looking at Wichita or I’m looking at Kansas City â€” Kansas City, Kansas has some of the fastest internet in this hemisphere. And Wichita, we’re lagging behind.
When we talk about infrastructure, we shouldn’t just be talking about roads and sidewalks. We should be also talking about technological infrastructure that is going to make sure that Wichita’s current economy, such as the aviation economy, such as the healthcare economy, which is more and more dependent on the cloud, but also nurturing these startups â€” these technological-based startups â€” and saying that, "We know we have the smart people here, but we are also going to have the infrastructure to nurture those ideas and let you grow here in Wichita."
We need a mayor that not only understands what a gig is but understands that the next economy is going to be dependent on technology, and add that as part of the infrastructure plan.
What does quality of life mean to you, and how would you foster it as mayor?
So here’s what I tell people until I’m blue in the face: Quality of life must be painted with a very broad brush. Because if you look at me and, oftentimes, my generation, quality of life can be as simple as making sure that people have a safe place to walk and ride a bike. Because for older adults, their number one activity that they like to do for pleasure is walk with a friend or a spouse. And so, for them, quality of life is safe, available walking paths. For others, it’s having a perfect venue to go see music theater. For some, it’s going to be the ballpark. For others, yet, it might be an aquatics playground in their neighborhood. The reality is we have to paint the quality of life with a very broad brush and no one sector of our society should be able to define what quality of life looks like â€” nor should the mayor define what quality of life looks like. But we have to hit a lot of different touchpoints that impact the larger community.
Quality of life means different things to different people. To some people, it means letting their kids be able to play outside until the streetlights come on, with them knowing those kids will be safe. So, quality of life to some people is making sure that we are giving our public safety departments â€” the police, the fire department â€” the necessary resources that they need to be successful which, right now, we aren’t doing enough for.
For others, it’s getting out there and going to parks in the neighborhood â€” making sure that our neighborhood community centers, our pools, even our golf courses are not on the chopping block. When some investor wants money to put somewhere else, we’re not taking them out of these other communities, some of them are more lower-income. It’s to make sure that we are keeping what makes our Wichita communities great, but also adding to it. We’re seeing a lot of attention for stuff that we have, such as the zoo, which is a county project, expanding and becoming better.
We should be looking inwards to Wichita asking citizens what quality of life means to them and then taking that feedback and having a bottom-up approach to not only our budget but also the public policy â€” to make sure that what we do to further quality of life here in Wichita is accepted by the community so that it will be more effective.
What specifically is your position on the future of Century II, and what is your overall vision for the river corridor?
So, obviously, we’re going through the planning phases of what the east bank looks like. We’ve hired Populous to come in and do some community engagement. We can’t do enough community engagement. So I’m keeping an open mind because, ultimately, the community should decide this. But if you’re asking for Jeff Longwell’s
personal opinion of what that should look like, I think there’s a way to do both â€” have a bold vision. I like the idea of having kind of Wichita’s version of a Millennial Park [sic], or a downtown park that can create some real opportunities for gathering spaces on the east bank. [I] certainly like the opportunity of a new performing arts center, but I don’t know that I would put it right there next to Century II. I think there is an opportunity to place it in some areas that can provide more synergy.
We know we’re missing out on conventions because of really poorly designed convention space that doesn’t meet [the needs of] today’s convention-goers. And we know we’re missing out on revenue streams because of that. And so we need to take all of that into account, but I still think there’s an opportunity to repurpose Century II. So we can build a bold, new preforming arts space that looks awesome. We can create new convention space that meets our needs. And I think there is a way to repurpose Century II that can tie it into a Millennial-style [sic] park that gets people indoor-outdoor space that would create space to mix in. And I’m hoping, at some point in time, someone can come up with that bold vision that allows all of that to happen.
As I’ve said, for changes to be successful, they’ve got to have community buy-in, and it has to fit the culture of the community. It has to fit the history of the community.
So, to move forward, we need to get out of the backroom deals with investors and with developers who say, "This is the plan." Right now, I think the culture is to talk to those people over our boss. Our boss is the taxpayer, and we need to get out and talk to them and say, "These are some of the ideas. What is your idea? What do you think?"
That also adds transparency where, even if people don’t agree with whatever we come out with in the end, they will know that they were part of the process, and they weren’t just listened to, they were heard. In doing that, we can make sure that what we do in development is going to match the needs of the community and also bring Wichita to that next level.
See the full transcript below.
EDUCATION & TRANSPARENCY
USD259 educates the vast majority of children in Wichita. How would you ensure Wichita Public Schools are seen as a quality option for education?
So [I] want to make the people understand a couple of things. One, we have very little control over the educational system in this community because we’re set up different than a lot of states. In New York, the Mayor of New York has direct oversight over schools. In Wichita, Kansas, we have a school board. I spent 12 years on a local school board, so I know a little bit about how that educational system’s set up. But at the end of the day, it really is about outcomes and how you can impact students in the class. And it’s not a simple solution. It’s something that requires really good teachers. You have to have active, engaged parents, and you have to have a community that’s active and engaged. And so we can try and aid that in happening, and we do some things with 259, and we’ll continue to do some things that promote learning. But at the end of the day, the decisions that are directly going to be impacted by students in this community, are going to be done at the school board level.
I fought for years in legislation to make sure that Wichita public schools finally get their deserved piece of the pie from the state level. I’m happy to say, for the first time in almost a decade, Wichita schools will now be constitutionally funded because of the work of the legislature and people who have fought for that.
One of the things we can do to help support our K-12 schools and also our higher education institutions, which are world-class here in Wichita, is to talk to them about collaborative efforts. We can not only ask the schools what programs or after-school programs could we partner with you as a city but also collaborate with our non-profit sector â€” with the faith-based sector â€” to make sure we are complimenting those programs.
Take it a step further and talk to our higher education program institutions, and try to make that pathway from twelfth grade into higher education â€” whether that’s at a private school, whether that’s at a technical school, whether that’s at Wichita State â€” try to make that more smooth, because we know that the economy of the future is going to require that everyone is to be educated to the fullest of their potential so that, not only will they get their piece of the American Dream, but we can attract more talent here to Wichita and more jobs here in Wichita by showing off our workforce.
Public-private partnerships, including TIF districts, community improvement districts, star bonds and discounted late sales have been used for a variety of development projects in Wichita. What’s your position on how Wichita’s handled these public-private partnerships?
So, as the acting mayor and a council member for eight years, I think we’ve done an outstanding job, because we’ve put some guidelines around those kinds of tools that ensure that the public’s tax dollars are well guarded. And we’re one of the few communities that has the kinds of requirements that we have in terms of ensuring that we get a return of investment on the dollars that we promote for incentives. So we need to re-evaluate all of those tools and make sure that we are using them both properly and [ask], "Have we become too strict?" And saying that, we’re in the process of re-evaluating all those tools right now and [asking,] "Is it the best way to promote opportunities for this community, new and existing companies that want to grow."
What I can tell you is, those tools are [part of] the reason that we kept Cargill in Wichita. So Cargill could’ve [gone] anywhere in the U.S., and many thought they were [going] to Plano, because Plano uses a lot more incentives than we use. And because of the incentive package that Plano, Texas or Dallas was willing to put on the table, people really thought Cargill was gone, but they chose Wichita. And they chose Wichita for reasons really not associated with typical incentive programs.
And that’s part of where we need to focus too, is on our strength and our ability to keep those companies that aren’t incentive-driven. And I think we can do more of that. But we were unique in the way that we did some of that. In fact, we helped Cargill build a parking garage. But the beauty of that is Cargill can’t fold that up and put it in their billfold. The community gets to use that during the evenings and weekends. And that’s a win-win, and they needed to have that as part of their footprint to help them be more successful. And so we have to find those opportunities like that, where we’re investing, but we’re investing in a way that the community wins.
I was the first person from Wichita in over twenty years to be the ranking member on a commerce, labor and economic development committee up in Topeka â€” up in the state legislature. So, I had a first-row, front-row seat at the table as we started creating the tools that are being used for these development projects. Some cities are doing really well, going to the legislature and making sure that the tools are sharpened particularly for them. Wichita hasn’t been doing that over the years. When we look into these public-private partnerships, we have to make sure that the taxpayer is treated fairly and treated like a partner. We have to make sure that the project will be accepted and will be successful. We also need to â€” one thing I offer â€” need to be looking ahead. When these tools â€” these community investment tools â€” are being tweaked at the legislature, have someone at City Hall who understands that process. Who can reach up to people in the legislature and say, "Hey, if this or this were added, then it would have a bigger impact on Wichita. It’ll save taxpayers money and also result in a better outcome."
That’s one thing I think I bring to the table, in addition to supporting community investments, supporting the tools that we currently have, is, I think I can help shape those tools because of my seven years serving in Kansas legislature.
Many believe the city has not been as transparent as it should be with some of these development deals. What’s your plan to improve that transparency?
So, we can always improve communications. And you know what I would tell you is, "What does transparency look like?" You ask that question to one hundred different people, you’re going to get one hundred different answers. So it’s one of those things that’s not real tangible, but we have to improve. So I will tell you this: I spent 12 years on a school board, and, every year we would hold a retreat, and every retreat we held, the number one item that came out of that is we have to figure out a way to better improve communications to our customers â€” our constituents. [It’s] no different than what we’re dealing with. We’ve got to figure out a better way to communicate. I get the whole transparency. It gets even more complicated when you’re working unique deals, where you can’t share because of a variety of issues. But, at the end of the day, we answer to the public. And we’ve got to figure out a way that makes them more comfortable, and that always centers around how can we improve communications.
I was the co-sponsor of the bi-partisan transparency act years ago in Topeka. People in Topeka told us that we couldn’t bring transparency to state government. It’s very reminiscent to what I’m hearing at these public forums from the current administration, which is, "We can’t be more transparent," and I think we can. Some of the things we need to do is make sure we end no-bid contracts, particularly for large investments. Some of the things we have to do is make sure we aren’t putting big expense bills â€” we call them appropriation bills â€” but big expense items on a consent agenda.
The consent agenda usually means that no one is going to argue it, no one’s going to ask questions, it’s just going to pass through. When you’re cleaning up language â€” you’re dotting some I’s, you’re crossing some T’s â€” put it on a consent agenda. When you are talking about a huge development project, we should have that open for conversation. That should never be put in an area where there won’t be any conversation, because when there isn’t conversation that’s done in the public, to someone like me â€” someone who’s been in government for a while â€” I know that conversation happened somewhere else. That happened behind a closed door.
We need to change the culture. Encourage public debate â€” the public being able to watch us have those conversations, particularly when it comes to their tax dollars. There are lots of ways that we can improve transparency at City Hall, but also, I want to take that a step further and try to bring in more public opinions and more input by utilizing social media â€” utilizing some of the tools we already have that don’t cost us anything.
As a legislator, I live tweet my votes from the floor. I keep my people who follow me on Facebook updated while we are arguing on the floor in real-time. That doesn’t cost me anything but while I’m doing that, [and] I can get instant feedback.
One of the things that we see happening is, usually, people aren’t learning about some of the stuff that’s going on until it’s ready to be voted on â€” until it’s already been through the process â€” and, by then, they didn’t have a chance to have input.
Transparency is not only allowing people to know that the process is open but also telling them that they should be a part of the process â€” that they are valued, and that we work for them.
What can Wichitans expect if they elect you as mayor?
So, they can expect to see the momentum continue. In the last four years, we’ve built a new police training center, we’ve built a library, you’ve seen the river corridor grow, you’ve seen investment from companies as far away as Kansas City want to build an exciting, new, vibrant, mixed-use space near the river, and that’s EPC from the Kansas City area. But the Cargill building, the Union Station, the Spaghetti Warehouse, IMA moving downtown, and, if you look, there’s multiple construction projects in the core of the city. Fidelity Bank [is] building a 10-story building and a four-story parking garage, and vacant downtown buildings are getting new life put to them.
But it’s not just the core. You can go back to an article in the Business Journal. For the first time in Wichita’s history, you’re seeing a vibrant, new business park grow up on South Seneca and 235 and the Greenwich corridor that is just blossoming with all kinds of new opportunities. What you’re going to see is that kind of momentum continue â€” and truly believe, we don’t want to jeopardize that momentum in this community. And what you’re going to get with me is a continuation of great momentum and growing a Wichita that we can all be proud of.
If I’m Mayor, I want to change the culture of Wichita in City Hall. I want to make sure that Wichitans know that we have our doors open. Not only are they able to come and have a meeting, but they have a seat at the table, that we value input.
I’m someone who has a bottom-up approach when it comes to policy and policymaking, so I’m going to need our voters â€” our taxpayers â€” to know that they are partners in this process.
I think Wichita is at a pivotal moment. We are at a moment right now where we can make us a leader regionally. In the ’80s, Wichita’s economic development was double that of the national average. Right now, it’s the opposite. Right now in Wichita, our job growth is a half a percentage point. We are lagging behind our regional, comparable cities.
I think that the person who should be Mayor of Wichita shouldn’t be happy with that. We should be looking forward and trying to reclaim what Wichita once was, which was a regional leader. In doing that, our city will grow. In doing that, we can be more competitive on a national stage and make sure that not only are we creating jobs, but our grandkids can stay here and get a piece of the American Dream right here in Wichita. They don’t have to move out of Kansas and become one of the statistics that we’ve been talking about â€” one of the people who are forced to leave because they don’t think that they can lay down roots here so, instead, they spread wings.
As a dad of three kids, I have a bit of a selfish impulse with this. I want my kids â€” after they get a great education here in Kansas, after they stay in Wichita and are brought up right in our community â€” to be able to answer their calling right here in our city and not have to move away. If I’m the next Mayor of Wichita, which I really hope that I am, I’m going to be someone who’s collaborative. I’m going to be someone who’s not afraid to look at all of the data when we make choices, because the stakes are too high.
Wichita, we’ve done it before, and we can do it again because our best days lie ahead.