Job Growth Comes from Giving Customers What They Want, Not What You Want Them to Have
Today's editorial from the Wichita Eagle:
| The three goals that the Priority Project set for Wichita this week have been kicked around for decades. But there is value in seeing them elevated to the top of the community agenda and treated with new urgency and accountability.
The big three:
There is something for everybody on that wish list, and a lot for Wichita as a whole.
- Develop more downtown activities and events for individuals and families of all ages.
- Diversify the local economy by keeping industries already here and recruiting new jobs in new industries.
- Increase the number of people in the region who advance their post-high school education, either through degrees, certificates or retraining opportunities.
The identified goals are certainly laudable, but projects of this nature are re-introduced every few years...while the Wichita Metro area (Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey and Sumner counties) and Sedgwick County continue to become less competitive. Private sector employment in the Wichita Metro for 2011 was 6.3% below its 1998 level...and was below the 1998 in 9 of the last 14 years (here
). But local government employment jumped 14.8%.
The IRS says (here
) Sedgwick County lost people and Adjusted Gross Income every year since 2005, looking at interstate domestic migration (left the county for another state or moved in from another state). Even if one counts movement to and from other parts of Kansas, Sedgwick County only had a very small gain in 2009...all other years were losses.
There's a very simple reason that these well-intended initiatives haven't worked: local government and their public-private partners are offering employers what they want them to have instead of what they need to create jobs. The Wichita Chamber's own survey of business owners said taxes were too high. WIBA's member survey identified tax and regulatory issues as their top concerns, as did the US Chamber of Commerce. Yet government and their public-private partners ignore what the customer wants because they don't want the same things.
It's no surprise (or excuse, frankly) that people will say they want more downtown activities or other amenities; that's what happens when you simply ask people what they want without putting anything in context. You get a wish list.
Government and their public-private partners cannot create jobs but they can help create an environment that fosters job growth if they will listen to employers and give them what they need.