J.R. Custom Metal Products recently bought a $1 million laser cutter and hired six workers to build equipment to be used at the Siemens wind turbine plant going up in Hutchinson.
And more will be coming, said company president Patricia Koehler, as Siemens starts making turbines in December.
"It started with tooling and material handling equipment," she said. "If they're happy, they'll give us a chance to move into production parts."
With Wichita planemakers cutting jobs and shipping work out of state, where will Wichita jobs come from in the future?
Aircraft production has been the mainstay of the local economy since World War II. But the percentage of the local metro work force employed by aircraft companies has now shrunk to about 11 percent, leading to diversification by default.
Wichita has no choice but to adapt — or lose population, said Vicki Pratt Gerbino, president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.
Part of her job is to identify and help build high-growth, high-paying industries.
Possibilities include alternative energy, composite manufacturing, medical services and the wild-card creations of entrepreneurs.
It's hard to say exactly what Wichita's economy will look like in 20 years, Gerbino said, but there is one thing for certain.
"It's going to change," she said. "It will be different; of that, I'm sure."
Wind energy is among the most promising new industries because growth is expected to be significant for at least 20 years.
Kansas is expected to host a significant number of wind farms, and that draws manufacturers, such as Siemens. It has said it will eventually employ 400 at the plant.
To date, there are few local subcontractors for Siemens. But the time will come when the company and its European subcontractors seek local subcontractors.
Koehler just returned from a trade show in Germany with a group of local public and private sector officials. They impressed enough European wind energy manufacturers, they said, to get inquiries about visiting Wichita.
Aside from Siemens, Tindall Corp. has said it will build a plant to make concrete wind turbine bases in Newton and hire 400. Construction is slated to start in April.
Gary Richards, operations manager for J.R. Custom, cautioned that local machine shops will encounter some inherent problems in competing, one being the difficulty in working with metric specifications on American machines; another being the high stress placed on safety by Siemens.
Otherwise, Koehler said, the field is wide open.
"There are so many opportunities," Koehler said.
This sector also includes ethanol — which could see a resurgence if government standards are raised — solar power and biomass-generated power.
Composites are a manufactured material, rather than a product, so composites can be used in a number of different industries.
They will become a large part of the aircraft industry, as companies seek to reduce weight and gain flexibility and strength.
Fiber Dynamics cut its work force from 50 to 25 in 2009 when general aviation flew south, but it has raised the work force into the 40s with work on military aerial drones. It is now looking to diversify into non-aircraft fields.
"We hired a new development manager, and we're having a hard time keeping track of the opportunities," said president Darrin Teeter. "Things are popping up faster than we can tackle."
One of the highest profile applications is in the medical field.
The National Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research, a partnership of Wichita State University and Via Christi, has already created jobs with a $20 million, five-year research grant. The center will soon sign contracts for a variety of composite medical applications, such as bone replacements, battlefield stretchers, operating tables and surgical instruments.
Michael Good, chief financial officer for the group, said the first jobs could be created by the end of the year. The forecast is for 500 jobs in five years and more than 2,000 jobs in 10 years.
"We're starting a locomotive here," he said. "This is not a Yugo we're starting up."
The medical sector has added jobs through the recession and is expected to continue growing.
The state's forecast for which occupations will grow calls for 2,000 more highly paid health care professionals and technicians, and 2,000 more lesser-paid health care support jobs in south-central Kansas by 2016.
It's hard to predict how the new health care law will affect the growth of the health care system in the future.
These jobs range from accountants to janitors.
The numbers have grown for decades as manufacturing employment has shrunk. Who would have predicted 20 years ago that Wichita would support more than 1,000 restaurants, employing tens of thousands of people?
Service jobs make up some of the occupations that are predicted to add the most employees. Teachers, clerical staff and customer service representatives categories alone are expected to add more than 6,000 jobs by 2016.
Wichita entrepreneurs have created much of the local economy.
Today, entrepreneurial companies such as High Touch and Freddy's Frozen Custard employ hundreds in Wichita.
And Wichita is always coming up with new entrepreneurs with bright ideas and big dreams.
Bryan Fish, who just graduated from WSU, is trying to sign up customers for his invention: a system for hotel housekeepers to more quickly alert the front desk when they have cleaned a room.
Fish, 23, a Kansas City-area resident, is a little vague in describing the technology, but said he has investors lined up and even has a hotel in Kansas City interested. It's a matter of closing the deal, he said.
"The market for jobs is not that great," he said. "I was given the opportunity to start my own company, and I'm really going at it and doing the best I can."