It smarts more than a little to read about how Boeing’s plan to exit Wichita after 80 years is benefiting San Antonio and Oklahoma City. But the Air Capital needs to learn from the loss any way it can, and ensure it has the tools and strategy to be a contender in the competition for all kinds of jobs and businesses.
As recent articles by The Eagle’s Molly McMillin have demonstrated, Boeing’s decision to leave Wichita by late 2013 will mean about 400 jobs for San Antonio and 800 to 900 jobs for Oklahoma City. The company currently employs 2,160 in Wichita.
Boeing, which cited high overhead in its decision to leave Wichita, leases a four-story office building in Oklahoma City; another is under construction. Port San Antonio built a hangar for Boeing; the company has a 20-year lease on its buildings with two five-year options at “very favorable terms.”
Port San Antonio has flourished in part because it secured a $35 million loan to improve and modify the former Kelly Air Force Base site for employers. In addition to leasing property, businesses can get help paying for workforce training.
Oklahoma City offers cash to eligible companies that have at least a $1.75 million local payroll and that create at least 50 jobs paying more than the city’s average annual wage. The state’s incentives include cash rebates for job creation, help with employee training, and tax breaks specific to aerospace.
It’s hard to see Wichita and Kansas competing with such goodies, unless they come up with new strategies and many more dollars.
One defining task ahead will be ensuring that the Boeing Wichita facility on South Oliver doesn’t sit idle for long, if at all. If Boeing is correct that it’s premature to be aggressively marketing the 400 acres and its 97 buildings, it isn’t by much. Maybe the company can afford to be choosy, but the city can’t risk seeing the property empty out and decay.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told The Eagle that government officials already had approached Boeing about deeding the property to the city or another public entity so marketing could proceed. “Let’s get control of it so we can move quickly,” Moran said.
That sounds like a good goal to pursue as Boeing winds down operations – perhaps with the creation and help of a redevelopment authority like the one that transformed Kelly Air Force Base’s 1,900 acres into Port San Antonio, which now has 80 employers and 14,000 employees.
The vast Boeing Wichita parcel wouldn’t be appropriate for most other companies, and its shared sewer and electrical services pose a challenge to division. But the right manufacturer might be out there in the global marketplace, one that also would be happy to tap into Wichita’s aerospace workforce, research, development and expertise.
The site’s availability also should better focus the long-running talk in the community about the need for a large, well-developed and easily adaptable industrial park.
And as one San Antonian advised, helping existing businesses should be a key part of Wichita’s response to the loss of Boeing.
Oklahoma City and San Antonio aren’t apologizing for being on the receiving end of the Boeing Wichita jobs. Wichita’s leaders should steal every strategic lesson they can from those communities, then get ready to start beating them at the economic development game.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman