Wichita makes its presence known in Paris

PARIS — Wichita has an enormous amount of competition at the 49th annual Paris Air Show in Le Bourget.

The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition is showcasing Wichita's aviation industry at a booth in the U.S. Pavilion at the sprawling show.

Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Washington, Mississippi, Ohio, and Connecticut have large exhibits in the same pavilion.

That's just for starters.

Mexico, Canada, Italy, Portugal, China and a host of other countries, governments and municipalities are showcasing their areas and capabilities.

"There's way more here than I ever imagined," said Bob Kaiser of Winglet Technology. "This is what Wichita is up against."

"We're not intimated by them," said GWEDC marketing manager Tammy Nolan. "But we do think that we have to be (here) when so many of them show up in full force."

The growing competition is the reason Gov. Sam Brownback held an aviation summit in Wichita recently, said Randi Jack of the Kansas Department of Commerce.

"They were trying to address what do we need to do to stay competitive and do different to keep our jobs," said Jack, who is working at the GWEDC booth.

The GWEDC is showcasing more than 300 aviation companies and suppliers that serve the aerospace and military industries. Their names are listed prominently on the exhibit.

"We talk about all the companies that are here," Nolan said.

And three days into the show, that's a lot of talking.

"I'm really impressed with the people who come by and the quality of the conversations we have had," said GWEDC's Beth Shelton.

There were a lot of meetings booked ahead of the show. In fact, it may be the best show it's ever pre-booked with meetings.

More companies appear to be sending teams after cutting back during the downturn.

Wichita is well-known in the industry.

"Even if they speak little English they know Wichita, and they come up and say hi," said GWEDC managing director of business development Tammy Nolan.

Many conversations have taken place with companies who have a presence in Wichita but whose leaders don't live in the city.

It's a great place to meet with them to talk about Wichita and the company's footprint in the city, she said.

Two Wichita suppliers, Fiber Dynamics and Harlow Aerostructures, partnered with the GWEDC and are helping showcase Wichita and their companies.

It's the first time either has been at the Paris Air Show.

The partnership using the GWEDC exhibit as home base, makes the venture affordable, Fiber Dynamics president Darrin Teeter said.

The company is marketing its proprietary composites processing techniques for primary structures, such as landing gears and wing structures, Teeter said.

It wants to expand into the commercial aerospace market. With general aviation down, Fiber Dynamics has replaced much of the work with composite structures for the unmanned vehicle market, he said.

Harlow Aerostructures president and chief operating officer Jim Barnes said the size of the show makes it a little overwhelming for a first-timer.

Barnes said he has met with a number of contacts. He also negotiated the final contract for work with an Israeli-based customer.

But his primary goal is to help promote the city and its aerospace industry from the perspective of a supplier, he said.

He hopes other Wichita suppliers will do the same.

Mark Rehwinkel, a sales engineer with Makino who lives in Wichita, said Spirit AeroSystems' reception on Monday was a who's who in manufacturing. He was able to mingle and meet with people in the same room — something that would be nearly impossible otherwise.

He also is meeting with the management from potential customers during the show.

"I met some senior management that would be difficult, if not impossible, to see in Wichita," Rehwinkel said.

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