Wichita and Sedgwick County officials said they are optimistic they can nail down a proposed $52.7 million, 450-job Bombardier Learjet expansion at Mid-Continent Airport, a deal that awaits state agreement on an incentives package that local officials said could run between $16 million and $18 million.
City and county officials already have approved their portion of the plan, contributing $1 million each. But Learjet has approached the state for the second time in about 16 months for millions of dollars in incentives.
Bombardier spokeswoman Danielle Boudreau said this week that “there are ongoing discussions with the state. Nothing to announce yet.” She did not elaborate on the nature of the incentives the company is seeking.
Kansas Department of Commerce spokesman Dan Lara said he doubted his office could say much about the ongoing talks. It’s unclear when those talks may be completed, or when Bombardier may officially commit to the proposed Wichita expansion.
Lara said his office expects that the State Finance Council, which represents the Kansas Legislature when it’s not in session, would be asked to approve any potential Bombardier incentives.
Wichita officials say they’re confident the state will sign on to the expansion incentives.
“I’m very optimistic about it,” said Suzie Ahlstrand, interim president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. “I’ve heard nothing different at this point.”
It’s the second Bombardier incentives deal on the table with the state in as many years. In the summer of 2010, Bombardier announced a new Wichita assembly site for its Learjet 85 business jet, which created 600 new jobs in exchange for about $27 million in bond financing from the state. The company also agreed to not move any existing operations out of Wichita during the life of the bonds.
Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh said the current incentives talks are tied to the Learjet 85 deal.
“I think that at that time they qualified for around $42 to $43 million in state incentives and only ended up using $25 million,” Unruh said. “They want the remainder now.”
According to city documents, the expansion would include the establishment of a corporate center of excellence for aerospace engineering and information technology, a $14.9 million paint facility, a $3.6 million expansion of the Bombardier Flight Test Center and expansion of other facilities.
Learjet said it would add 450 new jobs over seven years at the Wichita plant as a result of the expansion. That would be in addition to the 600 new jobs that the company committed to in 2010 in exchange for state incentives for its Learjet 85, a new all-composite aircraft to be assembled and finished in Wichita. The proposed paint facility would be for the Learjet 85.
Other proposed new facilities include a new delivery center to be built at the entrance to Learjet, and a production flight facility for aircraft testing.
The Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission signed off last month on $1 million grants for the proposed expansion, half of a $4 million plan to relocate employee parking that also includes a $2 million U.S. Economic Development Association grant.
Much of the proposed new building in the expansion plan would occur on land currently used for parking, making a deal with the city’s airport authority essential for new parking.
The company approached Wichita first, choosing the city over Tucson and Montreal for the expansion. The expansion-related jobs will pay an average of $118,000 in the first year, according to city documents, and an estimated $60 million in sustained annual payroll.
Unruh said he remains optimistic that the expansion will happen in Wichita, and anxiously awaits its economic boost.
“I’m optimistic about it because the results of this deal are so beneficial to south-central Kansas and the entire region in terms of jobs and the capital investment,” he said. “I’m optimistic that they’re going to work out the final details, and we’ll end up with a big win for our region.”