Source: Wichita Business Journal | By: Kirk Seminoff | https://www.bizjournals.com/
It’s truly head-shaking to think that less than 1 in 5 registered voters in the city of Wichita are likely to vote in the Aug. 1 mayoral primary.
And 1 in 5 is being generous. In the 2019 primary, which narrowed Wichita mayor candidates down to two finalists, just more than 23,000 Wichitans decided who moved forward to the general election — 10.2% of registered voters.
Frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I hope interest in this year’s primary is higher, but hope may be all it is.
At least I’m reasonably confident the percentage of registered voters who are also Wichita Business Journal readers are higher, and that’s why we’ve taken steps to introduce you to the candidates in a couple of ways this summer.
In this week’s edition of the WBJ, seven candidates for mayor have taken the time to answer our lengthy questionnaire that’s largely filled with business questions.
Candidates have repeatedly told me on the BizTalk with Bill Roy podcast this summer that constituents say public safety and infrastructure are their top priorities — things they want the mayor to shepherd and improve over the next four years.
But as a business newspaper, we wanted to know how candidates view the role of mayor when it comes to creating, improving and keeping businesses in Wichita.
We asked them to tell us specifically how a mayor can improve workforce issues for companies. How they would attract companies to the community. What the relationship should be between a mayor and business leaders, including developers who are important to improvements across Wichita.
See what you think of their responses — then be heard by voting.
A couple of housekeeping notes with our candidate questions. First, we asked each candidate to disclose who has made maximum contributions to their campaign. We did this because campaign finance reports are due to county election officials July 24, but by that time many Wichitans will have already voted and we think it’s valuable to know who is funding local campaigns. You’ll see that no candidate chose to answer our question directly, so check back with the WBJ for a complete look at who’s donated to mayoral, City Council, County Commission and school board candidates.
There are nine candidates in the Aug. 1 primary, but only seven are represented here. Candidate Tom Kane received invitations to be on the BizTalk podcast and to respond to our questions. He declined in both cases. The other candidate, Anthony Gallardo, is on the ballot but has said he is endorsing Lily Wu in the primary.
Get to know the candidates here, and I invite you to go visit the BizTalk podcast hub to find interviews with seven candidates. Already posted are my interviews with Jared Cerullo, Celeste Racette, Bryan Frye, Shelia Davis and Lily Wu. Julie Rose Stroud and Brandon Whipple’s podcasts will be available next week.
These are in-depth conversations that attempt to introduce you to candidates far beyond what they can tell you in soundbite or on their websites. I hope you’ll give them a listen, and take in what they have to say as they answered our business-related questions about the mayor’s role in Wichita.
By The Numbers in the last Wichita mayoral election in 2019…
What, in your view, is the role of the mayor in Wichita?
Jared Cerullo: The role of the mayor, along with the entire City Council, is to be a representative of the people of Wichita, as well as being a watchdog over city staff and the city manager. I believe our current mayor has taken a very decisive activist role, which has divided our community and gotten us off track of being focused on basic city services. We must get back to the basics at City Hall. That includes focusing on public safety and deteriorating roads and bridges. Water and wastewater are going to be extremely important over the next four years, as the city continues building the largest capital project in its history, the water treatment plant near the Sedgwick County Zoo. I was also proud to have served on the bio-nutrient removal committee, focusing on the future of city’s five wastewater treatment plants and working to eliminate offensive odors in south Wichita.
Shelia Davis: The role of the mayor is to help its citizens and non-citizens living in our community to bring the programs to help them live a better life.
Bryan Frye: The mayor leads a collaborated effort to provide a safe city, safe streets, and safe neighborhoods for its citizens to lead their lives, raise their families, build their businesses/careers, and follow their dreams.
Celeste Racette: As the only Council member elected citywide, it is the duty of the mayor to represent all Wichitans. The primary roles for the mayor are:
- Serve as a spokesperson for the city
- Provide leadership and coordination on establishing policies for the governance of the city
- Keep a watchful and informed eye on the city administration, supporting positive strategies and guarding against misuse of authority.
Julie Rose Stroud: Advocate for the best interest of the city and the people who live within.
Brandon Whipple: The mayor is the only elected official to represent the entire city at-large. That requires that I wear two hats at all times. First, my role as mayor is to brag about Wichita and the great things we have to offer our residents and visitors. This allows me to meet with a variety of people in our community and my job is to play “connector-in-chief.” When someone has a great idea or wants to invest in Wichita, I see it as my job to ensure they get connected to all the right resources and people to make that dream a reality.
Secondly, the mayor is a legislative position that functions as a member of the City Council and the chair of those meetings. As such, my role as mayor is the person responsible for ensuring that the people of Wichita have a voice in their local government. While it is important for the mayor to collaborate with the council members, it is equally important for the mayor to do their own outreach to residents to gain feedback. As mayor, my vision for the city is shaped by genuine public feedback.
Lily Wu: Wichitans deserve a mayor they can be proud of. Our next mayor should be a principled leader, ambassador, and promoter of Wichita. A servant leader who represents all people and all neighborhoods. Someone who is transparent and respects taxpayer dollars, with a communication style that builds bridges. Someone with the energy to be present, engage more citizens, and inspire our community to expect better. We need a mayor who puts Wichita first, pushes politics aside, and brings people together to get real results.
My leadership philosophy is rooted in civility, respect, honesty, and integrity. Most importantly, I lead by first listening. As mayor, I will remain focused on ensuring public safety, strengthening our economy, restoring trust in City Hall, and building a united community. I’ll work with anyone who wants to improve our city, bring our community together, find common ground, and make Wichita proud.
Name one or two past Wichita mayors that you would emulate in some way and why.
Cerullo: Elma Broadfoot and Bob Knight. Both of these trailblazing mayors worked diligently and tirelessly to move Wichita forward. I believe we must get back to a time where we put party labels aside, bring everyone to the table, and find out how to move our city forward. Wichita has fallen behind other comparable cities, such as Tulsa, in terms of job growth, business development, population growth, etc. This has happened because we have continued to elect leaders who don’t have Wichita’s priorities first and foremost.
Davis: Carl Brewer, because of his caring heart. He talked to you like he knew you and he tried to help you with your business ideas — and he was a great listener. Brandon Whipple because of how he brings the children to work and his faith in God, and he is friendly.
Frye: Bob Knight for his dedication to fiscal responsibility and looking out for the taxpayer. Carl Brewer for his ability to unite public and private support for downtown Wichita.
Racette: My favorite past mayor would be my father, Vince Bogart, who served during 1964-65 and organized community support for the construction of Century II and the former public library. A second choice would be A. Price Woodard, who served as Wichita’s first Black mayor in 1970 and was a calming voice during the civil rights strife.
Stroud: Carl Brewer, as he sought to bring people together and worked across the political divide for common-sense solutions. He was interested in listening to others and creating an environment for the younger generation.
Whipple: I was fortunate enough to have a personal relationship with former mayor Carl Brewer. Mayor Brewer mentored me as a young elected official and prepared me to serve the community. He was the most down-to-earth elected official I’d ever met, and he was always so generous with his time. I often look back on the moment when I asked him what it was like to be mayor, and he responded, “I’m just like everyone else, I just have a different job.” I remember how Carl always took time to be normal and have fun with people in the community and I try to do the same.
Wu: The late mayor Carl Brewer was a well-liked and respected leader, who always took the time to listen and brought people together to get things done. He promoted Wichita, remembered underrepresented communities, and prioritized infrastructure, specifically our new airport. I remember Carl’s kind heart, the potential he saw in all people, and how he always made me feel like a friend.
While serving an incredible seven terms, mayor Bob Knight cared deeply for our people and culture, encouraged us to unite around our diversity, and strove to build an inclusive community where all feel safe, respected, and valued. Bob is a bridge-builder who put results over politics and represented Wichita well on the national stage. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I reported on the compassion, care, and welcome he showed passengers stranded in Wichita that terrible day in 2001. I am honored to have his support in this race.
How has your background and professional career prepared you to be mayor?
Cerullo: My background as a journalist here in Wichita for more than 25 years has prepared me to be an effective watchdog over city operations. When I go in to work each day, I may not know very much about the subject of the story I’m covering. My job is to ask a lot of questions, throw out all the noise, and write an unbiased story based on the facts. As mayor, my job will extremely similar. There will certainly be subjects that the mayor will not be an expert on. However, my job will be to ask a lot of questions, throw out all the noise, and use the substance of the subject to make a decision that will move our city forward.
Davis: I have run for school board and alderman in Davenport, Iowa, while going to community college classes full-time and volunteering in my community. And by doing volunteer projects on my own cleaning the park and neighborhood, talking to the homeless and volunteering at church and in my neighborhood, and by giving to WSU as a commuter student.
Frye: I’m the only candidate with leadership skills in business, nonprofit, government and entrepreneurism to help move Wichita forward. My proven track record of a 30-plus year business career, eight years City Council, eight years Park Board, dozens of volunteer roles and being a small business owner/operator has afforded me community connections, leadership opportunities and personal development growth.
Racette: My 25 years as an auditor and bank examiner provides me with unique knowledge of city finances. I earned numerous STAR awards from the FDIC for my investigations into corrupt payday lenders such as CashCall, Western Sky and USFastCash. I have withstood attempted bribery and coercion to bring offenders to justice. My experience with Save Century II has taught me how to organize a motivated community on behalf of a public cause. The list of Save Century II supporters covers the full spectrum of Wichita’s political and social community.
Stroud: As an environmental health and safety manager, it is imperative to understand the work being done and the people who are performing the work to ensure safety. As mayor, I would utilize these skills and experience to empathize with our community to understand what their challenges and goals are to ultimately make the city safer, and more productive. My experience on Capitol Hill, where I delegated to members of Congress and EPA officials for the need for a water treatment plant and industrial hemp, will prove useful for our community as well.
Whipple: Prior to being elected mayor, I served in the Kansas Legislature representing south Wichita’s House District 96 for seven years and taught at Wichita State University. As a legislator, my most notable positions were serving as the ranking member on the Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development Committee as well as Higher Education Budget Committee. This provided me with experience in using economic development tools in order to create opportunities at the local level while protecting the taxpayer. Before my time as an elected official, I worked in higher education.
Wu: As an outsider, I bring a fresh perspective to our city’s challenges. Exactly 30 years ago, I immigrated from Guatemala to Wichita, an 8 year old who only spoke Spanish and Chinese. I’m a proud product of Wichita Public Schools, where I learned English and obtained an International Baccalaureate diploma from Wichita East High. I earned two degrees in international business and integrated marketing communications at Wichita State and, while serving as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, received a master’s in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.
As a believer in Rotary’s motto, “Service Above Self,” I’ve spent over 20 years as a community volunteer and leader for organizations like Visioneering Wichita, the WSU Barton School of Business, and the Wichita Asian Association, where I still serve as a director of the cultural competition helping young women embrace their ethnic heritage and celebrate cultural diversity.
The past 12 years, I served as your local journalist at both KAKE News and KWCH 12 News, where it was my job to seek truth, report facts, and hold those in public office accountable. Traveling to every corner of our city listening to Wichitans of all backgrounds and experiences has equipped me with a unique perspective and understanding of our community.
What would be your biggest priorities as mayor?
Cerullo: Two main priorities: First, will be to restore trust between the mayor’s office and the Wichita Police Department. Our current mayor has destroyed any trust there ever was. After endorsing Brandon Whipple in 2019, the FOP has previously called on Whipple to resign over disparaging comments made regarding police officers in the media.
Second, as your next mayor, I will lead the charge in finding a new city manager. Fundamental change does not start with just the mayor. The average tenure of a manager for a city our size is 6-7 years. Bob Layton has been Wichita’s city manager for 14 years. It’s long past time for a fresh face with fresh ideas at City Hall.
Davis: My biggest priority as mayor is to be more involved with the homeless by building a center with all their programs under one roof. And family centers in each neighborhood like on the north side of town and south side.
Frye: 1. Protect taxpayer dollars. This includes holding the line on property taxes, aligning spending with community priorities, and taking care of infrastructure needs first before tackling wants.
2. Balance enforcement with compassion. This means stabilizing police staffing to protect our people and their property. Improving emergency response times. Addressing mental health and homelessness with accomplishment.
3. Move Wichita forward by breaking down barriers to economic opportunity and diversity, championing neighborhoods and public spaces, and prioritizing efficiency, transparency, and action.
Racette: 1. Ensure that essential services such as public safety and transportation are adequately supported.
2. Restore public confidence in City Hall and provide competent oversight to the city’s finances. That includes reining in the city’s current practice of awarding tax subsidies to undeserving developers.
3. Provide passionate leadership that inspires citizen pride in our great community.
Stroud: Ensuring proper allocation of taxpayer dollars and city funding to prevent waste generation and increase sustainability of our city. Bring in business and support business startups. Establishing strong partnerships with public schools, not-for-profits, and county community services to prevent and reduce homelessness, crime, and poverty.
Whipple: As mayor, my top priorities are to continue our energy and momentum currently attracting the jobs of the future and to ensure the city is safe, no matter what neighborhood you live in. We’ve seen great success in attracting new investment and jobs in Wichita by modernizing our policies to reflect the values of the next generation and the new economy. The city of Wichita was also the only city in Kansas to invest our federal ARPA dollars in workforce training and development programs so young people can get the skills they need to start careers right here in Wichita.
Quality public safety depends on rebuilding public trust, and I am focused on building a sense of security and equal access to services throughout Wichita. The most recent budgets invested record-level funding into public safety, social services, and road maintenance. The city is doing our part to address the addiction and behavioral health crisis by investing in harm reduction strategies to help those struggling with addiction and embedding mental health professionals into WPD so those in crisis get the help they need.
Wu: I hear from citizens across our city who repeatedly express confusion in understanding and navigating City Hall’s priorities. Our focus must be on the core services of local government. As mayor, my priorities will be ensuring public safety, strengthening our economy, restoring trust in City Hall, and building a united community. It is time to put partisanship aside and focus on building a united community to meet the challenges of tomorrow and improve the lives of every Wichitan.
What are you business and development priorities for the city?
Cerullo: Wichita must continue to diversify itself economically. We must also realize that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. I will prioritize forging relationships with people of all walks of life to create equitable access to economic development opportunities. We must retain competence while attracting innovation, in order to stay competitive.
Frye: We must get serious with crime prevention, enforcement, and prosecution. Businesses of all types are struggling due to theft and vandalism at record levels. Employees and customers alike are afraid of potential violence if they intervene.
Keeping high electric rates in check. The city of Wichita should oppose the request by Evergy to increase rates, as this will put yet another burden on families and companies already facing significant inflation.
Enforce contracts with Wichita Riverfront Limited Partnership to get construction started on the private development surrounding Riverfront Stadium. If met with more delays, litigate and move forward with a new partner.
Build on the success of WSU’s Innovation Campus, our skilled workforce and Wichita’s historical grit to continue diversifying our employment opportunities.
Racette: Economic growth is essential if Wichita is to continue as a great place to live, work and play. However, economic development must benefit all citizens, and not just a handpicked group of developers. The best formula for economic growth is to provide the necessary infrastructure and city services that help retain our talented youth, support our existing businesses and encourage business recruitment.
Stroud: Establish tourism within the riverfront area.
Whipple: Wichita is once again the economic leader in the state of Kansas. Our unemployment rate hovers around 3%, which signifies almost full employment. We’ve seen great success attracting new opportunities to the Wichita region over the last 24 months, so as mayor, that signals to me that I need to focus on attracting more talent to Wichita to fill those new jobs. My top development priority is to increase our housing supply. In order to keep housing affordable in Wichita, we need to work with those in the industry to create an environment where they can build housing as quickly as possible.
Wu: Greater collaboration between government, industry and education are critical to moving Wichita forward. My priority is ensuring Wichita is a safe community that helps attract and grow businesses. As mayor, I will increase collaboration with existing groups focused on business and economic development such as the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, Greater Wichita Partnership, Wichita Independent Business Association, as well as our educational partners.
We need to get back to the basics. Our city must be safe (including filling police vacancies and tackling the homelessness issue) to be more attractive for businesses to start and grow in Wichita.
We need to ensure we’re supporting our existing businesses, creating a future-ready workforce, and emphasizing high-paying jobs. I’d like to serve as an ambassador for our city to attract new industry, investment, and people. I’m opposed to tax increases on working families that stifle economic growth, as well as taxpayer-funded giveaways that don’t make economic sense.
What is your biggest priority for downtown Wichita?
Cerullo: I will work with the development community to begin the process of building a new performing arts center while saving Century II. Performing arts needs a new venue, but it does not have to come at the expense of Century II and it does not have to come at the expense of raising taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars.
One more priority: Due to the residential growth that has taken place downtown over the last 20 years, I will work to attract a grocery store downtown. For our core to continue to grow in terms of walkability and bike-ability, we need to attract a businessperson who will commit to setting up a grocery store downtown now that there is enough residential support there.
Davis: My biggest priority for downtown Wichita is for more business of all cultures than can have learning activities.
Frye: Establishing a plan to welcome the Wichita Biomedical Campus and its potential growth with crime prevention strategies, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing to accommodate new residents as well addressing the homeless population.
Racette: My top priority is to support continued growth and resurgence of downtown Wichita.
That goal can be achieved without special interest handouts that pay developers first and citizens second. I also would prioritize the retention of existing infrastructure such as Century II and the former public library.
Stroud: Making it more accessible and increasing parking. Implement the addition of a hydroponic community garden that is maintained in partnership with the public schools for educational purposes.
Whipple: It is important that when people travel to Wichita, they feel welcome and safe immediately. My priority is to encourage the development of the riverfront combined with the plans for a medical complex near the arena district to reshape downtown into a community asset residents and visitors can enjoy.
Wu: I want to help build the best version of Wichita. Downtown development should be sustainable and affordable for our current residents. To achieve the downtown many dream of, we first need to grow our economy, expand our tax base, and bring new jobs to our community. If we want more people living downtown, it must be safe and we must address homelessness, an issue that needs leadership from City Hall. I will prioritize the basics, so our downtown is in the best possible position to succeed.
Describe you vision for the east and west banks of the Arkansas River downtown.
Cerullo: The Riverfront Stadium project has turned into a debacle due to the mismanagement of prior councils and mayors. There has not been nearly enough accountability over the development aspect of the west bank. I will ensure that the new owner of the baseball team will honor their commitments by bringing in a hotel and restaurant on the west bank.
Davis: My vision for the east and west banks of the Arkansas River downtown would be to have more businesses down there for the family with food and activity.
Frye: From the Seneca Street bridge to the Lincoln Street bridge, the Arkansas River corridor becomes Wichita’s most popular destination with places of play, relaxation, entertainment, and public spaces easily accessible by land or water. The area is transformed into a thriving hub filled with vibrancy, excitement, and community pride. Complementing the successful Riverfront Stadium would be a new privately funded performing arts center and a remodeled Bob Brown Expo Hall/Convention Center.
Racette: Development of the Arkansas River downtown must be on its own merits and cannot be dependent on developer subsidies. The city’s role is to provide infrastructure and regulatory support that creates a positive environment for future development.
Stroud: Promote the growth of hospitality businesses and ensure current and future businesses are preserving the natural environment.
Whipple: My vision for the development of the riverfront centers on a family-friendly arts and entertainment district that is welcoming to residents and visitors alike. The west bank development around the baseball stadium will complement existing assets like Ice Sports Wichita and local Delano businesses. The new multi-modal transit center will welcome those traveling to Wichita into the heart of a thriving atmosphere.
The new plan for the east bank of the river incorporated the feedback we’ve received into a plan that achieves the objectives articulated by the public. The new plan utilizes underground parking to increase parking and public green space simultaneously. This plan also replaces Bob Brown Expo Hall with the state-of-the-art convention center that we need to continue our trend of increased tourism to Wichita. Century II will be repurposed into an indoor/outdoor ballroom for conventions to utilize. The plan also provides a variety of programming spaces for the public to enjoy or use to host shows and events.
The final piece is to build a top-notch performing arts center that is worthy of the phenomenal performing arts organizations that call Wichita home. This new performing arts center must be designed in collaboration with our arts community to ensure this facility will serve their needs now and for generations to come.
Wu: I envision a safe and vibrant downtown where families and young professionals enjoy activating both east and west banks of the Arkansas River. I would also love to see a new performing arts center near the river.
What should be Century II’s future?
Cerullo: I believe Century II should be saved. It would be tragic to see such a beautiful and iconic landmark demolished for the sole purpose of lining a few developer’s pockets. There is still much development revitalization that can be done downtown without tearing down Century II. That includes building a new performing arts center along the east bank of the Arkansas River.
Davis: Century II’s future is to stay and it can be used to help people start businesses and for activities for the city and police to do with citizens.
Frye: Immediately, it will be repaired of its deferred maintenance. Beyond that, any proposals brought to City Council for consideration must be approved by a public vote before final Council action.
Racette: As an iconic symbol of Wichita’s past, present and future, Century II must be preserved and improved to serve a vital role in the city’s convention, tourism and entertainment venues. Past policies of deferred maintenance must be replaced with a progressive vision that preserves this foundational asset for future generations.
Stroud: The future of Century II should be decided based first and foremost around the safety and health of our community and the preservation of our environment. This includes considering city resources that will be utilized.
Whipple: Based on overwhelming public feedback, our most recent budget addresses the deferred maintenance on Century II to preserve this public asset. Until a new performing arts center is completed, Century II will never go dark on my watch. Our performing arts are too important to our community to risk missing a season. Once a new performing arts center is completed, the plan to repurpose Century II into a modern indoor/outdoor ballroom will create a unique and attractive asset for conventions to host events right on the riverfront.
Wu: I have many fond memories of Century II, where the Wichita Asian Festival is held each year. Whatever happens with Century II, it must have community buy-in and be fiscally responsible. This is not something that should be settled by career politicians in a back room while our citizens are left in the dark. Our community should be presented with clear alternatives, along with how each scenario would be funded, and the public should vote.
What kind of relationships should the mayor have with the city’s business leaders?
Cerullo: The mayor must be a person who can forge relationships with people of all walks of life. That’s what I’ve done my entire career. I will use my skills to put partisan politics aside, bring everyone to the table, and find ways to work together to move our city forward.
Davis: The mayor should work with businesses and talk with them about what it takes to start a business.
Frye: Throughout my business, public service and Council career, I’ve always valued collaboration and teamwork with fairness, accountability, and transparency at the core. Solving problems and working through issues is accomplished by bringing partners to the table whether it be business leaders, fellow Council members or other electeds at the county, state and federal level. I have a track record of working with schools, neighborhoods, nonprofits and organized groups.
Wichita will be a forward-leading city where everyone is invited to engage, participate and contribute.
Racette: The mayor must always have an open door to business leaders and must be first in line to offer appropriate public support for business development. I will encourage regularly scheduled conversations with business leaders and facilitate a positive relationship between the city bureaucracy and our business community.
Stroud: The mayor should have strong understanding of what direction the business leaders want to go in and ensuring they understand the top priorities of the city.
Whipple: It is important for the mayor to be available as a resource to businesses in Wichita. During my time as mayor, I have had the opportunity to walk alongside many of our local businesses to address issues they needed to succeed. During the pandemic, I formed a Small Business Advisory Council to ensure that I was meeting regularly with local businesses. It was important for me to have real-time feedback so I could adjust policy to accommodate their needs. This resulted in a variety of changes to allow more outdoor dining options and changes in licenses to help small businesses grow. As mayor, I have taken every opportunity to modernize our policies and ordinances to address the business realities of our community.
Wu: Growing our economy starts with supporting and collaborating with our existing businesses to help them create more value for our community. While this seems basic, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to business leaders and am no longer shocked at the response I get when I ask how often the mayor or their City Council member visits them. The answer is almost never. We need to restore the relationships between the city and our business community. As mayor, I plan to initiate a program to build better relationships between the City Council and small and large businesses in Wichita.
Who has made maximum contributions to your campaign?
Cerullo: I am self-funding my campaign. During my 2021 Council campaign, I learned a very hard lesson that just the appearance of a campaign donation has a negative connotation. Therefore, I decided that I am willing to sacrifice my own finances in order to provide Wichita good and effective leadership.
Davis: God has made the maximum contribution to my campaign. He gave me the strength to sign up to run for mayor.
Frye: I’m blessed to have received support from a cross-section of individuals and businesses who have the same passion for Wichita that I do. They want an experienced leader with know-how and the ability to build relationships that moves Wichita forward.
Racette: I have received the maximum $500 donations from a relatively small group of donors. Unlike past (and some current) candidates, I have not received multiple maximum donations from the same individual, masked behind various corporate identities. My goal is to rely on small donations from average citizens and not from the development and real-estate community.
Stroud: The greatest contribution to my campaign has came from the pain, and challenges and desires for a better community, that I have been exposed to from the community my entire life.
Whipple: I received maximum contributions from community leaders, individuals, small businesses, and labor organizations. I am most proud to have the financial support of over 300 donors who’ve contributed both small and large amounts to our campaign.
Wu: The energy and excitement around my campaign has spurred record support and I’m proud to be supported by much of our business community. My support comes from doctors and lawyers to teachers, and hard-working individuals who are now on social security. My supporters have one thing in common — they all love Wichita. People are invested in my campaign financially because they believe in my vision for Wichita and know it’s time to make City Hall work for all people again. I’m truly humbled by their belief, trust, and confidence.
What can be done to make it easier for business startups in the city?
Cerullo: I believe the city’s industrial revenue bond program should be re-focused to provide tax abatements for startups. In the past, the city has seen very wealthy corporations take advantage of the IRB program. Re-focusing the city’s IRB program would encourage entrepreneurship in order to allow small businesses to continue being job creation engines.
Davis: The city can have classes about what you need to start a business or have programs about how to start your own business and what are the good locations to start a business, and the kind of businesses that are needed on the sides of town.
Frye: Keep taxes low. Streamline processes for a quicker, more efficient timeline. Reduce fees and permits for small businesses/startups to lower initial cost outlay. Connect new companies with mentors.
Racette: I will reach out to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, Wichita Independent Business Association, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and similar organizations to ascertain what effective role the city can play in encouraging new startups. The city’s long and storied history of entrepreneurship should provide a template for continued economic growth.
Stroud: Holding recurring workshops and meetings.
Whipple: As a city, we have encouraged co-working and incubator spaces in order to give startups more opportunities to take risks. Wichita is the only city in Kansas to allocate federal ARPA dollars toward small business and workforce development grants. These grants supported a variety of nonprofit programs designed to help entrepreneurs and startups launch their businesses with lower overhead costs alongside support services.
Wu: Local government should be a crutch, not a roadblock. We should help entrepreneurs utilize existing services by providing clear communication and expedited navigation of what can be confusing and siloed agencies, especially for first-generation entrepreneurs. We must also ensure processes are streamlined, and any red tape or costs are reduced. As mayor, I will increase awareness of nonprofit organizations that are doing the work to help startups such as NXTUS and NetWork Kansas.
What should city government be doing to address workforce shortages?
Cerullo: The pandemic had a disastrous effect on the national workforce. Add that to the fact that more and more baby boomers are reaching retirement age – and that translates into a huge workforce problem. I will lead the charge to develop strategies and funding mechanisms that recognize the needs and challenges faced by workers. I will work with local trade unions that can offer or develop apprenticeships while allowing young workers who may not be able to afford to go to college — to begin a rewarding career.
Davis: The city should do paid job-training programs for two years, then hire them full-time and part-time.
Frye: This is especially concerning, as it’s more and more difficult to recruit and retain employees in law enforcement, public works and transit. Consequently, the labor shortage at City Hall affects the ability to deliver service to residents. Staying in tune with residents’ needs and expectations is where it begins. This is paired with constant monitoring and evaluation of pay/benefits and their costs. Offer hybrid work environments whenever possible. Additionally, recruit new workers to the table by supporting trade programs and training opportunities for youth, women and minorities. Help high schools and universities with funding and/or tax credits to expand their capacity and reach. Continue to keep child care and early learning on the city’s legislative platform.
Racette: As mayor, I will encourage sustained conversations between our employers and our educational institutions to stay in tune with changing economic dynamics. The city’s first responsibility is to listen to the community and provide timely response to identified needs.
Stroud: Inspire our youth to get into the workforce early and provide work opportunities with top industries.
Whipple: As mayor, my job is to attract and retain the next generation of talent to start careers and families in Wichita. My strategy is two-fold. First, we must create opportunities for Wichita kids to find their calling here at home. Right now, USD 259 graduates around 1,500 students each year that do not have a plan after high school. That’s why we invested in workforce development programs through WSU Tech and USD 259 to ensure Wichita students have the skills they need for the jobs of the future. Second, to attract talent from outside Wichita, our values must match the values of the next generation. That’s why I’ve focused on modernizing policy to send the signal that Wichita is an inclusive and welcoming community.
Wu: The past three years, I worked on a series called “Building You,” which connected job seekers with local opportunities. I highlighted and appreciated the work of the workforce centers in addressing workforce shortages.
Another example is WSU Tech, one of the best institutional resources in our community, however, far too few people outside of Wichita know about it. One of the ways our workforce shortages can be addressed is by having a mayor who promotes the opportunities in our city — both internally and externally.
We need a mayor who views our businesses as a partner in creating opportunity and enhancing our quality of life. We also need to support policies that make child care more accessible and affordable.
What should be local government’s role in bringing businesses, large and small, to the city?
Cerullo: If the city is focusing on its core services appropriately, many other things will fall into place. That includes maintaining good roads and bridges, public safety, and parks, etc. Many large corporations looking to move want to know that their workforce will enjoy living in the city they call home.
Frye: Simply put, make Wichita the most attractive business environment while protecting taxpayer interests. Work with Greater Wichita Partnership to identify trends and opportunities that evolve our business attraction and retention efforts. Continue investing in quality-of-life projects that increase our livability and curb appeal for residents, visitors, and prospective employers.
Racette: As stated earlier, the city’s role is to provide quality infrastructure and regulatory support to create a positive business-friendly environment.
Stroud: A mayor should be actively involved in all current and future business in our city.
Whipple: The mayor’s role is to work alongside our economic development partners and be available to make plays happen. For every deal I’ve been part of as mayor, I view myself as the member of a team. One of the unique things about Wichita is our all-hands-on-deck approach to economic development. It is not about ego or anyone getting credit, it is about everyone doing their part to close the deal. That’s why I focus on being available to our partners whenever they need me and do my part to advocate for Wichita. When I moved to Wichita, I felt like I hit the jackpot because there was so much opportunity available to me, and as mayor, my job is to sell the dream and vision of Wichita to anyone looking to invest in our city.
Wu: In addition to supporting our existing businesses, our mayor should act as an ambassador for our city to help attract new industry, investment, and people. We need greater collaboration with our partners at the Greater Wichita Partnership, Visit Wichita, Wichita Chamber of Commerce, Wichita Independent Business Association, as well as local/state government. We are in a battle for regional attention and investment. I’m determined to win that battle by proving Wichita has so much to offer everyone.
It’s also vital we focus on the basics while attracting new business. This is one of the reasons I oppose tax increases on working families that stifle new economic growth. We should do everything possible to break down barriers and make it as easy as prudently possible to start a new business here.
How do you feel city government has done recently in terms of using tax incentives — Tax Increment Financing districts, Community Improvement Districts, STAR bonds districts — to attract businesses?
Cerullo: The state-sponsored STAR bond program needs to be significantly overhauled or even scrapped altogether. The Kansas STAR bond program, which was extended in 2021, has been abused because of its loopholes and has benefitted only the ultra-wealthy. Additionally, the Riverfront Stadium TIF district is clearly not performing the way we were told it would. This is going to present a huge problem in the next four years because the economic activity in the TIF district is not generating enough additional sales tax revenue to pay off the debt for the ballpark. If something’s not done, it will require a tax increase on the entire city. Nobody wants that.
Davis: City government has a few tax incentives. If we can legalize marijuana, that would bring money to the city and we wouldn’t be short of tax (revenues).
Frye: In a perfect world, cities wouldn’t have incentive programs and instead rely on low taxes and quality of life to recruit and retain businesses. Because Wichita has long required a 1.33 to 1 ROI on public funding of projects, the city has good success with tax incentive programs. TIF and STAR use new growth created within the district without adding new taxes on citizens. This can help speed up the development to the market. CIDs are more challenging because it’s a new tax on top of existing taxes. Often times, the public benefit is really more for the developer’s project and not the common good. Because of this, CIDs should be evaluated and monitored with higher scrutiny.
Racette: The current and past City Councils have failed to exercise sound judgment and common sense in awarding tax subsidies that pay developers first and taxpayers second. As mayor, I will use my financial expertise to ensure that any tax subsidies are essential and not just a convenient source of revenue for developers. Current city policy requires that TIF funds be used only as a last resort, but that policy has been largely ignored in recent years. STAR bond districts have been created based on fictitious economic data and puts the city’s finances at risk as a backstop for questionable projects. STAR bond districts in the city’s wealthiest sector demonstrate how easily this tool can be abused.
Stroud: The purpose, ideas and goals behind the tax incentives, TIFs and STAR bonds are understood, however we need to ensure the contracts are written so that the city is not left high and dry when things do not go as planned. We need to ensure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. We must do our due diligence to ensure taxpayer dollars are utilized as stated.
Whipple: As mayor, I meet regularly with our economic development partners to determine what tools we need to add to our toolkit to attract jobs. On my watch, we’ve created opportunities for spec warehouses and other incentives to help Wichita attract new, diverse industries. We modernized our economic development guidelines to ensure deals are fair for the taxpayer while at the same time establishing clear expectations so everyone gets a fair shake to compete for city projects.
Wu: Real estate development is necessary for growth. It brings affordable housing, retail, restaurants, hotels, and other amenities that help increase our quality of life. That said, our city doesn’t have a good track record with incentives, which have often meant sweetheart, insider deals, wasting taxpayer money for the benefit of few at the expense of many. If incentives are absolutely necessary, they must be transparent, fiscally responsible, and hold the developers accountable. Taxpayers shouldn’t be left in the dark, or foot the bill for anything that doesn’t show an exceptional long-term return for our city. The upside is, if we prioritize properly and take care of the basics, including public safety, our community will be much more attractive to new and existing businesses.