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Wichita, Sedgwick County growing more slowly than predicted

Wichita_Waterfront.jpg
City of Wichita
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The city-county planning department is recommending Wichita and Sedgwick County push population growth estimates back by 10 years.

The city-county planning department is recommending Wichita and Sedgwick County push population growth estimates back by 10 years.

The populations of Wichita and Sedgwick County are growing slower than predicted.

A 2015 city-county comprehensive plan predicted that, by 2035, Sedgwick County would reach a population of 610,000 and Wichita would reach 448,000.

Now, the city-county planning department is predicting this won’t happen until 2045.

Steven Banks, a senior planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Department, is recommending the city and county change their comprehensive plan to adjust for more sluggish population growth.

“They’re pretty slow growth rates,” Banks said.

Banks is recommending the baseline county growth rate move from 0.83% to 0.63% per year. This moves the county and city further away from its accelerated growth rate — an aspirational growth goal of 1.25% per year set in the comprehensive plan.

“So even though we created a stretch goal when we created the comprehensive plan, we’ve still not, as expected, reached that stretch goal,” said Cindy Miles, who helped create the comprehensive plan in 2015.

Banks is recommending the change following a review of 2020 census data, which showed slow population growth in the 2010s.

Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, said that slow growth in the 2010s was due, in part, to the decline in aerospace jobs following the 2008 recession.

“Migration has been the biggest reason why we’ve had to adjust,” Hill said. “... We were still losing jobs in ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15.”

The population numbers help guide the city and county’s public spending decisions on infrastructure projects, such as water and sewer investments.

“We want to be as accurate as possible about what the future looks like for our community,” city spokesperson Megan Lovely wrote in an email to KMUW.

For example, Banks said the 2020 census numbers show that Wichita’s population will make up a smaller percentage of Sedgwick County’s total population in the future. More growth is predicted to occur in outlying cities like Valley Center and Park City.

“That’s important because over time we are allocating more to the small cities,” Banks said.

The 2015 city-county comprehensive plan also lays out about $10 billion in infrastructure investments needed to accommodate a growing population in Wichita. Banks said that the slower growth rate will allow the city and county more time to make those investments.

The Advanced Plans committee approved Banks’ recommendations last month. The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission still need to approve the recommendations.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.