Thursday, January 5, 2012

Boeing's decision to leave Wichita pisses everybody off

Kansas is short one airplane manufacturer.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2012 at 11:30 AM

During WWII Boeing employed 40,000 people to build bombers in Wichita.

Following yesterday's announcement that Boeing will shutter its Wichita plant next year, Kansas politicians unsurprisingly were really mad. Over the past decade, Kansas' congressional delegation had lobbied hard for Boeing to snag a military contract for refueling tankers and keep jobs in the city. The company has had a presence in Wichita for 83 years. A total of 2,160 employees will lose their jobs as the work transitions to Boeing plants in other states. The plant will be closed by the end of next year.

What made the plane maker's decision so frustrating to Kansans is that the company promised if it won the Pentagon contract to build the aerial tanker, it would create jobs and a huge economic boom for the city. In an April 30, 2010, press release, the company proclaimed, "The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] today announced that Kansas will benefit from approximately 7,500 jobs and an estimated $388 million in annual economic impact if the Boeing NewGen Tanker is selected as the U.S. Air Force's next aerial refueling aircraft." The release highlighted quotes of support from Kansas politicians including former Gov. Mark Parkinson and then-Sen. Sam Brownback pledging support for the company.

Now, Kansas leaders are speaking in less flattering ways about Boeing.

In a statement, Gov. Brownback called out the company for fleeing. "We have been there with the company through every battle, whether it was the 10-year tanker battle or securing funding for other key Boeing Defense programs vital to national security. Our team never wavered, always keeping its commitment to the success of the Boeing Company for the good of the state and of the nation. Today’s announcement on the phaseout of Boeing’s presence in Wichita is very disappointing to all of us," he said.

Mayor Carl Brewer says Wichita is still the air capital of the world.
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer put it more simply: Boeing lied. He told Bloomberg Businessweek, "They weren’t totally honest with us. We thought the relationship was a lot stronger." In a statement, he added, "Today’s announcement that the Boeing Company would pull out of Wichita by the end of 2013 was a harsh message for our community. The loss of 2,100 jobs will deal a severe blow to our local economy, and I offer my deepest condolences to the families who will be directly affected by this development."

Sen. Jerry Moran was similarly peeved by Boeing's choice. "Today I join thousands of Kansans who are outraged by the announcement that Boeing will be closing its Wichita defense facility — leaving the future for hundreds of Kansas workers in jeopardy. As recently as 10 months ago, I joined these workers and local and state officials in Wichita to celebrate Boeing’s victory in the tanker competition," he said in a statement. "The fact that Boeing is now refusing to honor its commitment to the people of Kansas is greatly troubling to me and to thousands of Kansans who trusted that Boeing’s promise would be kept."

Sen. Pat Roberts recalled in a statement that Boeing representatives duped him, too. "Boeing's chairman sat in my office 22 months ago during that battle [to get Boeing the contract] and promised me, then-Sen. Brownback and Congressman [Todd] Tiahrt that if we won the fight to get the tanker contract back, Boeing would stay in Wichita. The chairman again promised the entire delegation the work would remain in Wichita just last February, when the tanker contract was settled in Boeing's favor."

Boeing defended its move by saying that shrinking Pentagon budgets mean the company had to streamline operations. "In this time of defense budget reductions, as well as shifting customer priorities, Boeing has decided to close its operations in Wichita to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and drive competitiveness," it said.

But Moran cast doubt on Boeing's claim. "It is hard to believe that conditions would have changed so rapidly over the past few months to bring about the decision to not only move the tanker finishing work elsewhere, but to also close down the entire facility," he said in his statement.

Brewer and Brownback both tried to sound optimistic about the future of the aviation industry in Wichita, and noted that the facilities and the trained workforce aren't blowing town. They said the future will likely lie in commercial aviation. Brownback said in a press conference, "You’ll be seeing some positive announcements shortly."

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