Six years after the bottom fell out of the nation’s economy, Wichita is seeing successes but also far too many job losses.
The latest big step forward was Tuesday’s announcement by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, of the final approval of McConnell Air Force Base as home for 36 of the U.S. Air Force’s new KC-46A refueling tankers. That means $219 million in construction to prepare McConnell for the tankers, whose presence in Wichita beginning in early 2016 should help secure the base’s future for years. It was no surprise that the environmental impact study favored McConnell, given the base’s expertise and long experience accommodating the KC-135 fleet. The Air Force won’t be sorry it chose the Air Capital for this crucial assignment.
But McConnell’s win was followed by the big step backward of Wednesday’s 575 layoffs at Textron Aviation’s Cessna Aircraft and Beechcraft facilities in Kansas. That means heartbreak, uncertainty and perhaps hard times for hundreds more families in Wichita’s aviation workforce, which already has sustained wave after wave of job cuts since 2008. Some consolidation and layoffs were expected at these two large local employers, which became one in March when Textron closed on its purchase of Beechcraft Corp. But it’s one thing to realize the company is looking to identify “redundancies” and quite another to learn you and your job are among them.
The community can hope that the leaner company will be well-positioned for an anticipated but badly overdue rebound in general aviation – and that local and state elected officials and economic development leaders are doing everything possible to land more wins for Wichita like the Air Force’s new tankers.