Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sedgwick County seeks to attract industry with land plan

The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA - Chris Chronis left frustrated two weeks ago from a meeting of top local economic development dealmakers, called the transaction team.

Once again, he recalled thinking, an unidentified company had asked whether there was a good site for a large new factory. The team had submitted two locations but knew the sites in Sedgwick County just weren't good enough.

So when Chronis, Sedgwick County's chief financial officer, got back to the office, he came up with a plan for a giant industrial park. By that night, he had a deal.

In the next two weeks, Sedgwick County commissioners likely will vote on spending $14.3 million to buy 808 acres of land in Bel Aire and to put in roads and a railroad spur.

There is general support on the commission for the deal, although the commissioners delayed a vote on it Wednesday and want more details.

It's a rare serious attempt by local government to diversify the economy away from aircraft manufacturing and its vicious cycles. The park would be aimed at luring very large plants, upwards of 1,000 jobs or more, called "home runs" in economic development slang.

This park won't be for just one big plant, but multiple ones, Chronis said.

"This will be a home run park," he said.

The plan is to welcome only companies in the composites and alternative-energy fields, Chronis said. Those are industries that are growing and that Wichita has an edge in attracting, say economic development officials, although plans are far from final.

The hoped-for plants would be game-changers for the Wichita economy, he said. They would form the core of new industry clusters.

It will take years, he said. Only governments can afford to wait that long.

"The pot of gold will be worth it," Chronis said. More here.

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