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Updated Employment Forecast Shows Some Good News For Wichita Economy

Steve Depolo
flickr Creative Commons

An updated employment forecast from Wichita State University shows the local economy improving slightly more than expected in 2021.

Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at WSU, says Kansas is projected to add about 10,000 jobs this year; Wichita is expected to add about 2,000.

Both figures are up marginally from Hill’s original forecast at the October Economic Outlook Conference.

Hill said he had more information and data to work with on the updated forecast, which he does every January.

"We now know better from October because of policy changes in COVID and vaccine that our market would likely open up a little bit more, and we're going to create more jobs," Hill said.

Much of the predicted job growth this year will come in the Leisure and Hospitality sector – which includes restaurants – and in the Retail sector. Hill predicted in October, and again in Tuesday’s update, that pent-up demand from consumers will lead to more retail spending.

But manufacturing jobs, particularly in aviation. will continue to decline.

"It might not all be at our larger companies," Hill said. "Really, we're still seeing struggles with some of our supply chains within the region."

The continued struggle in the aviation industry means Wichita’s economic recovery will probably lag the national recovery, Hill said. He said that’s because the aviation industry is tied to the health of the global economy.

"In our forecast for Wichita … it will take longer because the global economy has to improve first before demand increases, travel increases, and then that really filters back down to manufacturing.

"It's any manufacturing town, but particularly Wichita. We're going to be slower to get back up and going."

Hill said the recent federal stimulus package should help minimize business bankruptcies, something he said concerned him when he was putting the updated forecast together.

The lingering pandemic, though, still has the ability to slow the national economy, which would affect Wichita and Kansas.

"If the national recovery and vaccine have effects on the high end of expectations, Wichita’s growth is expected to grow up to 1.4 percent," Hill wrote in the forecast. "If the national recovery is more modest or downside risks are realized, Wichita’s employment is projected to remain close to flat in 2021."

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.