Spirit Chanute facility has its grand opening

Spirit AeroSystems celebrated the grand opening of its 55,000-square-foot plant in Chanute on Thursday in a ceremony at the facility.

The site officially opened March 2 with 16 employees who work on small aircraft sub-assembly for Boeing’s 737 single-aisle jetliner.

Employment is expected to total 35 by the end of the year and grow to 125 to 150 employees over the next several years.

“Where we’re at in production, things are going extremely well,” said Spirit site manager Tommy Mount, who transferred from Wichita to Chanute. “We’re very encouraged. We think we have a bright future here.”

The ribbon-cutting event was attended by Gov. Sam Brownback and other state and city officials, as well as Spirit president and CEO Jeff Turner, Spirit employees and their families and others.

“The opening of this facility in Chanute fits well with our company’s strategy to increase our capacity in a cost-effective manner and improve our ability to compete in this challenging global economy,” Turner said in a statement.

The company is positioning itself to take advantage of the upswing in commercial aviation, Turner said.

“We can only do that with the right people and capabilities in place,” he said.

Spirit is working to expand its capacity as Boeing increases 737, 777 and 787 production. Spirit builds major portions of the airplanes. Boeing is increasing 737 production to a record 42 a month.

“It (the Chanute facility) allows us to take some of the work that doesn’t need to be in that Wichita facility and allows for more complex work in Wichita,” Mount said. The arrangement frees up the Wichita employees to focus on more-sophisticated assemblies.

Over time, the site will take on other Spirit work as production rates increase.

“The city of Chanute and the state of Kansas … both offered tremendous support,” Mount said.

The facility had been occupied by Hi-Lo Industries, which builds cabinetry. The company moved and consolidated its facilities in Chanute.

Chanute refurbished the building, which Spirit is leasing, in only three months, the company said. The city had said that it expected to spend $800,000 to $900,000 on the renovation.

The hiring process for the site is through a partnership with KansasWorks and Neosho County Community College to recruit and train candidates for employment, the company said.

Spirit announced in September that it had chosen Chanute for the facility, ending a process that drew interest from 30 communities that responded to the company’s initial request for proposals.

It chose Chanute because of its infrastructure, available workforce and major highway access, the company has said.