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Three Priorities. Three Years. Starting Now.

9/10/2012
Suzie Ahlstrand, Vice President for Community Advancement and GWEDC Interim President, Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce | (316) 268-1135

At a news conference today, representatives from the public and private sectors announced three top priorities recommended for keeping south-central Kansas competitive for people and jobs. Visioneering, along with Young Professionals of Wichita (YPW) and the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (WDDC), responded to a challenge late last year from Mayor Brewer and Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who was Chair of the County Commission at the time. They asked Visioneering to identify areas of momentum to focus on in the next three years to ensure the region is competitive.

“We absolutely know we are in battle with other cities, states and regions when it comes to attracting businesses, jobs and people to our communities,” said County Commission Dave Unruh. “The good news is this: We know that when we work together, we can win.”

With funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Visioneering, YPW and WDDC outlined a process to identify the most important priorities for the next few years. The process named “The Priority Project,” began with Visioneering reviewing their regional strategic plan and gathering feedback from 265 people from 140 organizations. The initial process identified eight priorities that our communities need to address.

Next, the Priority Project conducted a citizen engagement survey to get feedback on where our region should have short-term focus to achieve long-term gains. YPW led the effort in collecting feedback from the regions citizens on these eight priorities. In addition to the eight priorities, people were also given the opportunity to offer ideas about priorities not represented in the list, and share specific ideas about how to accomplish the priorities.

The main focus was pushing the survey out electronically through the networks of YPW, Visioneering and WDDC. With the help of the City, County, regional partners, area non-profits, educational institutions and numerous other organizations, over 20,000 people were touched through various electronic and social media channels.

“But we knew we didn’t want to just stop there,” said Heather Denker, Director of YPW. “We needed to reach deeper into the community. YPW volunteers hit the streets at Riverfest, Final Friday, the dedication of St. Francis Street and various organizational events. We partnered with local churches, nonprofits, and neighborhood city halls to distribute paper copies of the survey as well.”

Over a two month period more than 3,000 people from around the region responded on what the top three priorities should be.

“I have seen the amazing amount of outreach that these organizations did to collect responses that define not only these top three priorities, but to come up with eight general priorities and it was impressive,” said County Chairman Tim Norton. “I've been a proud member of the Visioneering Steering Committee since its very beginning. Community engagement and distillation of ideas has always been a hallmark of Visioneering and this process is in their wheelhouse. They are the holder of the region's strategic plan - updating it throughout the years. This collaboration and partnership of Visioneering, YPW and WDDC has intensified the dialogue and discernment and provided us exactly what we need … focus and clarity.”

The top three priorities, as identified by the citizens of our region are:

  1. Things to Do:
    Develop more Downtown Wichita activities and events for individuals and families of all ages.
  2. Places to Work:
    Diversify our local economy by keeping industries already here and recruiting new jobs in new industries
  3. People:
    Increase the number of people in the region who advance their post-high school education, either through degrees, certificates or re-training opportunities

“I believe our residents have selected three priorities that will make a profound impact on our region in the next three years” said Wichita City Mayor Carl Brewer. “I am proud to lead the effort to get these - and more - accomplished in the next three years. I pledge to work with these partners, as well as others, who have a common goal to make our downtown even more vibrant for families, to ensure a higher number of adults in our community have advanced education and training, and to diversify our economy.”

Jeff Fluhr, President of WDDC, shared insight into initiatives that are already underway to advance the top priorities. “Visioneering’s College Mecca Alliance started ‘Achieve Kansas,’ an initiative to raise the number of degreed individuals in our region by 1%. They already have six companies interested in offering their employees incentives for earning a degree.” The Priority Project results also validate all of the effort that has gone into downtown revitalization. “As we continue to build downtown’s critical mass it will cultivate a vibrant environment for the arts, cultural amenities and events.”

These top three priorities, as well as the eight general priorities, will drastically alter how Visioneering operates as an organization. “There are many people and organizations working in these areas and if others are interested, we welcome their participation. Visioneering, with our existing partners and perhaps new ones, will now work to align our collective focus and mobilize our resources to make sure our region gets these done,” said Sommer Keplar, Visioneering Co-Chair. “Three priorities. Three years. Starting now. We have reached a tipping point and we are all ready to do what it takes to win the fight for regional competitiveness for jobs and people.”

Visioneering is the comprehensive long-range planning initiative for south-central Kansas. Partners include the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, as well as hundreds of organizations, businesses and individuals who work together as vision partners and in strategic alliances to improve the region’s economy and quality of life.

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