January 3, 2012

Boeing expected to announce plans at meeting Wednesday

Boeing Wichita has called an employee meeting for Wednesday morning, where the company is expected to reveal its plans for the future of the Wichita site.

Boeing Wichita has called an employee meeting for Wednesday morning, where the company is expected to reveal its plans for the future of the Wichita site.

Boeing officials said in November that they have been studying the site in south Wichita, which employs about 2,100 people. Closing the facility was one of the options, they said at the time.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said Tuesday he expects Boeing to announce that finishing work on a new refueling tanker won’t be coming to Wichita. He said last month that a senior Boeing official had informed him that Boeing plans to do the work in the Seattle area instead of Wichita.

“I haven’t been able to have any substantive conversations about what their intentions are,” Pompeo said.

Boeing had earlier promised that the Wichita site would become a finishing center for the tanker should the company win a U.S. Air Force contract to replace the current fleet of Eisenhower-age planes. A win would mean 7,500 jobs for Kansas, including several hundred at Boeing Wichita, the company said at the time. Boeing won the contract in February.

Pompeo said he is still hopeful that company officials will sit down with Kansas leaders and tell them, “’We made you a promise for seven years. We made it publicly; we’ve made it privately. Here’s what we’re going to do to live up to that. I still hold that hope.”

Bob Brewer, Midwest director for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, a union that represents some Boeing employees, has the same feeling as Pompeo.

“I think they’re going to announce the closure of the Wichita site,” Brewer said. “I haven’t had any conversation or anything provided to me that indicates anything different. I hope I’m dead wrong.”

The meeting, which begins at 10:30 a.m., is mandatory, Boeing told employees in an e-mail. Second-shift workers are required to attend and call-in numbers have been set up for employees working off-site.

Boeing spokesman Jarrod Bartlett confirmed the employee meeting, but had no further comment.

Pompeo has scheduled a news conference after the meeting. So have Mayor Carl Brewer and Sedgwick County Commission chairman Dave Unruh. The city said in a news release that no information about the content of Boeing’s announcement has been disclosed to either elected official.

"It would be a sad day if they do decide to leave," Brewer said.

Boeing officials said in November that the site faces a number of issues, including looming defense budget cuts, product and service contracts that have matured and expired, and limited prospects for future work. Boeing primarily does maintenance and modification work on military and government aircraft in Wichita.

The Wichita site has both advantages and disadvantages for Boeing. For one, many employees hold high security clearances, which are costly and lengthy to obtain. The site does work on Air Force One.

“I think that’s a big advantage to us,” Rooney said.

On the other hand, the massive size of the facility compared to the number of employees is a disadvantage because overhead costs are high.

Closing the Boeing facility, which has been in Wichita more than 80 years, would mean a loss of $1.5 billion in wages over 10 years, according to Jeremy Hill, director of Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research.

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