Wichita, KS Technology Companies Boost Economic Development
McConnell AFB in Wichita, KS
Kansas Air National Guard’s 184th Intelligence Wing at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, KS is the first of its kind in the Air National Guard.
Whatever the technological future may hold, Wichita is ready for it, thanks to a number of forward-looking individuals. “Our purpose is to prepare Kansas for the information age,” says Col. Randy Roebuck, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and current director of technology at the Wichita Area Technical College. “Information technology changes keep coming at us faster and faster, and we’d not only like to survive it but succeed in it.” Roebuck spearheaded Wichita’s Cyber Alliance, a unified front of businesses organized during the 2004 implementation of Visioneering Wichita, a local long-range strategic plan. Information technology is already a $2 billion a year industry in Kansas, employing nearly 60,000 workers, and the alliance works to promote the further development and proliferation of that technology. “There was a high interest to have a dialogue about ‘What are the jobs of the future?’ and ‘Are we technology-savvy in south-central Kansas?’ and ‘Are we perceived to have high-quality, high-tech jobs?’” says Suzie Ahlstrand, vice president of community advancement for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. “It’s all about high-paying jobs, and technology is an integral part of jobs today.” Since 2008, the Cyber Alliance has tackled three major initiatives: the founding of the Software and Information Technology Association of Kansas, support of the Kansas Career Pipeline and the creation of the CityArts Tech Studio. At the tech studio, one of the alliance’s most outreach-driven projects, high school and college students serve as teachers in what Roebuck describes as “an Apple Genius Bar-like ambiance” to help people learn to use technology such as basic computer software and social media applications. “Everybody benefits,” Roebuck says. “Our community gets better and smarter about information technology, and we hope that the experience these smart, IT-savvy students learn by giving back to the community will make them much more employable.” The Cyber Alliance also partners with McConnell Air Force Base, where Roebuck commanded the 184th Intelligence Wing. The guard continually recruits from the local community, and they need IT-trained people to fill valuable roles. Dr. Ravi Pendse, a founding member of the alliance, heads Wichita State University’s CISCO Technical Research Center, funded through a research grant by the networking giant. The center currently employs 100 graduate and undergraduate students during the school year and is expected to double in size by the end of 2010. “It has such an incredible value to their portfolio,” says Pendse, professor of engineering and computer science. “It enhances their people skills, because they talk to people all over the world. The research experience makes them a complete engineer.” The CISCO center falls under the umbrella of WSU’s Advanced Networking Research Center, which also includes the Center for Information Security, where students learn how to fight viruses, and the Center for Storage Networking Research, funded by San Jose, Calif.-based LSI. Dave Cunningham heads the Wichita operation of LSI, a data enterprise storage system architect that also works with the Cyber Alliance to promote technology education for younger students. “Our biggest hope is tapping into the youth and starting at probably the fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade range and upward, getting them excited about science technology and math, and showing them that there’s a purpose to those classes,” Cunningham says.