Good for Wichita and Kansas for making an aggressive play for the Boeing 777X and its 7,000 to 10,000 new jobs. As planemaker to the world for the past nine decades, Wichita deserves serious consideration for the job of building the new twin-engine jetliner or assembling its composite wing, and has a compelling case to make for itself.
Granted, it would be quite a flip-flop for Boeing given the company’s decision early last year to close its Wichita plant by 2014 and move those operations to Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Puget Sound in Washington state. Boeing Wichita’s Machinists work under the same master contract as Puget Sound’s Machinists, whose recent vote against a contract led Boeing to solicit out-of-state bids for the Boeing 777X work. Wichita obviously lacks a seaport, said to be essential to handle bulky, Asian-made components for the 777X.
And though the Brownback administration isn’t talking about what Kansas might offer – other than calling its bid “great,” “competitive” and “very robust” – it’s hard to see the state matching some of the other enticements already on or near the table, including $9 billion in tax breaks in Washington state and $1.7 billion in incentives in Missouri.
But Wichita should be far better than a long shot as Boeing assesses the offers that come in before Tuesday’s deadline. Here are seven reasons why the Boeing 777X should be built in Wichita, besides Kansas’ low cost of living:
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• More than 80 years of experience in the design, testing, manufacturing, modification and maintenance of aircraft, not only at Boeing’s Wichita plants but also at the companies now known as Spirit AeroSystems, Cessna Aircraft, Beechcraft and Bombardier Learjet. In Wichita, Boeing could even keep a close eye on its chief rival, Airbus, whose Airbus Americas Engineering employs more than 400 at its Old Town offices.
• The skilled, tested and ready workforce to take on such work, without the steep learning curve and quality-control worries Boeing would invite elsewhere, and the stated willingness by key local union officials to be “open to options” on wages and benefits and to work with Boeing on mutually beneficial labor agreements.
• The accessible and reliable network of suppliers and support services.
• The National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University.
• The National Center for Aviation Training, which Sedgwick County built to meet aircraft manufacturers’ workforce needs.
• The existing (but for sale) Boeing Wichita site, including a 325-acre flight line, massive hangars, and other buildings totaling more than 1.2 million square feet and an 85-acre office complex, as well as access to McConnell Air Force Base’s runway.
• A strong record of support for aviation manufacturing in general and Boeing in particular among local and state governments.
As Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, told The Eagle: “We have the heritage, the trained personnel, the suppliers, and so much of the infrastructure that’s necessary to build these planes.”
All Wichita needs is a “yes” from Boeing.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman