October 3, 2010

Hawker gets offer to move to La.

Hawker Beechcraft and Machinists union officials will meet Tuesday with Gov. Mark Parkinson after Hawker received an offer to move all its operations to Baton Rouge, La., the union said Saturday.

Hawker Beechcraft and Machinists union officials will meet Tuesday with Gov. Mark Parkinson after Hawker received an offer to move all its operations to Baton Rouge, La., the union said Saturday.

Hawker Beechcraft officials declined to comment.

The company informed the Machinists' negotiating committee of the scope of Louisiana's offer during contract talks Friday, the union said.

"HBC would no longer exist in Kansas," the union said in a flier to members. "Every hourly employee, engineer and any other non-bargaining employee will lose their jobs."

Parkinson has set up a meeting with Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture and union officials in Topeka on Tuesday, union spokesman Bob Wood said.

"The Governor has indicated there may be assistance available to sustain a portion of the HBC jobs in Wichita," the union said in the flier.

Parkinson's spokeswoman, Amy Jordan Wooden, declined to confirm the meeting.

In the meantime, the Machinists suspended further negotiations and a vote that had been set for Oct. 9 on an expected final contract offer from the company. The two sides reopened the contract a year early after the company said it needed to achieve major cost reductions.

Further negotiations will be contingent upon what the state can do, the union said.

"If Kansas were able to make an offer to HBC that could save some Wichita jobs, the membership ratifying a re-negotiated contract would be a key part of the final deal to keep those jobs in Wichita," the flier said.

Hawker Beechcraft employs 7,000 people, including 6,000 in Wichita.

Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council member Tara Wicker said Saturday that the council hasn't heard any news about negotiations with Hawker Beechcraft.

"They must still be in negotiations. We wouldn't know anything unless they needed our vote to make the deal work," she said.

Boisture, the Hawker Beechcraft CEO, told The Eagle in July that officials had begun looking at 10 locations as possible places to move work and had narrowed the list to Mississippi and Louisiana. He said that no decisions had been made.

A series of decisions, including Wichita's future role, would be made in next few months, Boisture said at the time.

"The market for our products has decreased dramatically over the last 18 months," Boisture said in July.

"Our view is that this is not a momentary decrease, and we believe strongly it's necessary to adjust the cost structure of the company to be able to be profitable in a small market."

More than 100 people gathered for a prayer vigil Saturday to pray for jobs at Hawker Beechcraft, said organizer Robert Robinson, a 37-year employee in experimental flight aircraft inspection.

The purpose was to pray for God to intercede so workers don't lose their jobs.

"We're trusting in God," Robinson said.

News of the scope of Louisiana's offer didn't surprise Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer when reached Saturday evening.

That's because "everybody's always trying to get the entire lock, stock and barrel of any of our aviation companies," Brewer said.

Kansas doesn't have the incentive packages some other states have, he said, but Kansas has something Louisiana doesn't — a skilled work force. "They can't produce as good of a product as we can."

"There are some things that are in place that we're doing right now that we're not able to discuss," Brewer said. "We're doing everything we possibly can. The company is important to us."

Former Lt. Gov. John Moore said the state must be creative and pursue whatever is available to keep the company in Kansas.

The state has been creative in the past.

Several years ago, for example, the Legislature approved $500 million in bonds for Boeing Wichita's commercial aircraft division — now Spirit AeroSystems — to help the facility win Boeing 787 work.

The bonds were a major shift from the state's typical economic development incentives, Moore said.

Today, Spirit is Wichita's most "viable aviation manufacturer," he said.

In 2008, the Legislature quickly passed up to $33 million in bonds for Cessna to build a plant in Wichita for its new Citation Columbus business jet. With the economic downturn, the project has since been canceled.

In July, the state approved $27 million in bond financing for work in Wichita on Bombardier Learjet's Learjet 85 business jet. Learjet 85 production will mean 600 jobs at the plant, including 300 new positions. The company also agreed not to move any operations out of Wichita for the life of the bonds.

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