Home to McConnell Air Force Base and four major aircraft companies headquartered within its boundaries, Wichita's reputation as Air Capital of the World may be undisputed, but the entrepreneurial spirit that drew innovators like Clyde Cessna and Bill Lear to the city more than 80 years ago is as strong as ever.
Never one to rest on its laurels, Wichita continues to be a hotbed for innovation – not just in the aviation and aerospace sector, but also in emerging industries like bioscience, technology and wind energy – and the city is known for creating an atmosphere that allows both new and established businesses to succeed.
Blueprint for Growth
Strong, strategic partnerships between business and the community have long been a hallmark of the city's success. To keep that momentum going, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce formed a new leadership council, headed by "impact players" in the business community, to develop a blueprint for future growth.
"It's time to decide what we want our economic future to be and then move Wichita forward," says Jeff Turner, president and CEO of Spirit AeroSystems Inc. and co-chair of the leadership council. "We have tremendous resources, and our biggest is our human resources who want to see Wichita continue to grow and prosper."
Bringing jobs – high-paying ones – to Wichita will be the council’s first focus. The long-term goal is to push the area into the top 25 percent of economic performance among the country’s more than 300 metro areas.
"We will remove the barriers and capitalize on the opportunities," says Charlie Chandler, president and CEO of INTRUST Bank, N.A., also co-chairing the committee.
The leadership council is another of the area's competitive advantages, says Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce chairman Walter Berry, because it represents the kind of forward thinking that is making Wichita more globally competitive than ever.
"We have new companies coming in and others expanding," Berry says, noting the recent announcement that NetApp, a high-tech data storage company, plans to invest more than $85 million in renovating and upgrading its Wichita campus, adding 450 jobs to its workforce over the next five years.
"These are technology jobs at NetApp, with an annual average wage of $73,000," says Suzie Ahlstrand, interim president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. "Greater Wichita has a multitude of advantages that all work together to make us an ideal place for business investment."
It's why many Wichita companies are choosing to grow where they’re planted. Koch Industries recently announced plans to invest $2 million to expand its headquarters and add 300 jobs. T-Mobile is hiring 180 more at its call center. And aviation – the heart of Wichita's economy – is experiencing a major uptick.
"Commercial aviation is doing very well," Berry says, pointing to Bombardier's Learjet 85 program, which spurred a $52 million expansion and created 400 new jobs at the company's Wichita facility.
Other aviation companies are also experiencing growth. Large commercial aircraft deliveries increased by 12 percent for aircraft parts supplier Spirit AeroSystems Holdings in the second quarter of 2012. And Airbus, which has its largest U.S. facility in Wichita, recently announced plans to double the amount it spends with U.S. suppliers in the next 20 years, from $12 billion to $24 billion annually, much of it in Kansas.