State and local leaders couldn’t let Hawker Beechcraft and its 6,000 local jobs leave Wichita without putting up a fight. And they clearly are fighting back, judging from Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Mark Parkinson that there was an “agreement in principle” among the state, the Machinists union and the company that would keep the “vast majority of jobs” in Wichita.
The outstanding news, which came after Parkinson, company CEO Bill Boisture and union international general vice president Rich Michalski met in Topeka, eased the panic the community has felt since sources told The Eagle last week that Louisiana had offered an astonishing $400 million for Hawker Beechcraft to move there.
It’s frustrating to have no details about the offer from Kansas, which Parkinson described as an “incentive package for product development, work force training and tuition reimbursement” for the company and its employees. The specifics of economic development offers that involve public dollars or publicly backed incentives should be open to the public.
But apparently the deal with Hawker Beechcraft will be similar to the one crafted last summer to make $27 million in bond financing available to Bombardier Learjet in exchange for its assurances that final assembly of the new Learjet 85 business jet will be in Wichita, and that no existing operations will leave town during the life of the bonds. In the Bombardier deal, the bonds will be repaid from the employees’ income taxes.
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The fact that the Machinists union was at the table for the governor’s Hawker Beechcraft deal making casts the union as a partner in the solution, rather than an impediment to it. That raises hopes that the agreement can move from “principle” to action without difficulty or delay.
Plus, Parkinson’s assurance that “this is a long-term solution” at least suggests that it might offer some job security to workers and some stability to Wichita’s aircraft manufacturing sector. After the freefall of the past two years, that would be a boon to the local economy.
Some have suggested that talk of Hawker Beechcraft’s departure was a ploy to shake down the state. But wondering that is one thing. Acting accordingly is quite another, unless the community and state are fully prepared to sit back and wave goodbye to the company’s $357.1 million annual payroll.
As for those who favor eliminating all such deals and reforming Kansas’ tax system to create an inviting and even playing field for all businesses — that’s a worthy discussion for the state to have, but not when one of its largest employers has one foot out the door.
For now, all three parties to the Hawker Beechcraft deal deserve high praise.
There can be no true relief, of course, until the company and union work out a long-term contract, the workers represented by the union approve it, and word comes that Hawker Beechcraft has told Louisiana, “Thanks, but no thanks.”