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Bombardier commits to keeping jobs in Wichita with Learjet 85 program

Bombardier Learjet will assemble its new composite Learjet 85 business jet in Wichita in exchange for $27 million in bond financing from the state, Gov. Mark Parkinson announced today.

The company also agreed to not move operations out of the state in exchange.

Learjet 85 production will support 600 jobs. Of those, 300 will be new positions.

The Wichita site will be responsible for final assembly, interior completion, paint and final delivery of the plane.

The money will be used for modification plans at the site, which include an all-new paint facility, customer delivery center, production flight test facility and expanded production hangars. Bombardier's facility in Mexico will fabricate the plane's composite fuselage and ship it to Wichita.

The 85 business jet is the largest Learjet to date. The program was launched in October 2007 and is on schedule for entry into service in 2013.

The governor, Mayor Carl Brewer, Bombardier and Learjet officials made the announcement inside a hangar attended by local and state officials and Learjet employees.

As part of the agreement, Learjet agreed not to move any existing operations out of Wichita, Parkinson said.

"We've tied the $27 million in incentives not just to the new jobs, but to keeping those operations here," he said.

Learjet officials understood the company's history in Wichita and that loyalty and quality matter, Parkinson said.

Other states, especially southern states, are after Wichita's aviation jobs.

"When other states were getting very good in learning how to grow cotton and tobacco, we were building airplanes," Parkinson said. As they did, "we were developing a skilled work force."

The past 18 months have been difficult for the business jet industry, said Bombardier business aircraft president Steve Ridolfi.

The economic affects are still challenging, he said, but there are encouraging signs.

The news today on Friday "is the beginning of a new chapter at Learjet," Ridolfi said.

Construction at the plant will take place in four stages.

The first phase is a 28,000-square-foot expansion of the final assembly facility to prepare for the first parts that will begin arriving in Wichita early next year.

The state incentive is in the form of bond financing repaid from the employees income taxes that would have otherwise gone into the state's general fund.

The incentive was possible because of a change in state legislation passed in 2008 when Cessna agreed to put its large new jet, the Citation Columbus, in Wichita. The project was halted in the downturn, however.

Bombardier's agreement not to move operations from Wichita is for the length of the bond. The time period is still being determined, Parkinson said.

Penalty for doing so would be loss of some of the bond money, he said.

For more on this story, come back to Kansas.com and look in Saturday's Eagle.

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