Paris Air Show leaves Kansas, Wichita officials feeling upbeat

With the international Paris Air Show now behind them, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and state officials are following up with conversations held in Paris marketing the state’s aviation industry.

They’re following up with prospects and companies interested in doing business, locating or expanding in Wichita.

“We definitely came up with a robust stack of business cards,” said Debra Teufel, vice president of business development for the GWEDC.

“Some companies we visited with, I would say we are in serious conversations about getting them here to Wichita (to take) a look at buildings and talking about availability of the workforce,” Teufel said.

Some conversations were with new prospects not yet in Wichita. And some were with companies that already have a footprint here, Teufel said.

They also held some “serious conversations” about Wichita’s Boeing office and hangar facilities, which are up for sale as Boeing vacates the property.

Gov. Sam Brownback, GWEDC and Kansas Department of Commerce officials call the biennial show, held at the Le Bourget Airport outside Paris, a success.

In fact, “I felt even more upbeat about our opportunities in aviation than I have in either of the (Paris) air shows I’ve attended,” Tuefel said.

For one, there was more preshow planning setting up prospective meetings with CEOs and senior decision makers, Teufel said.

“We’re getting better and smarter at how we do these shows,” she said.

In addition, “I felt like the mood of the show was upbeat,” Teufel said. “We heard more good news coming out of this show than we’ve heard in a while. That being said, we’ve come out of a pretty bleak time.”

Brownback and a team from the commerce department, including Commerce Secretary Pat George, were at the Kansas exhibit with GWEDC officials to help market the state’s aviation industry.

Six Wichita aviation-related businesses also joined the group and shared booth space – Aerobind, Apex Engineering, CE Machine, Exacta Aerospace, HM Dunn and the Metal Finishing Co.

Brownback and George’s presence raised the profile of Kansas at the week-long show, where competition for aviation business and jobs is fierce, Teufel said.

“There were 24 states there that were spreading the message loud and clear they were open for business expansion,” Teufel said. “We definitely heard a lot about some of the states in the Southeast and their aggressive growth strategy. And that is why it was so vital that we were there in lockstep with the state of Kansas flying the aerospace flag.”

Brownback, for example, met with several companies and organizations, such as Airbus, ASTech, B/E Aerospace, Beechcraft, Boeing, Bremen Group, LMI Aerostructures, Selex ES, Spirit AeroSystems and UTC Aircraft Systems. He also hosted a reception.

Kansas is one of the best places in the world for aviation manufacturing, research and testing, Brownback said in a statement about the show.

“We have greatly improved the business and tax climate in the state,” Brownback said. “Our aviation workers are well trained. I wanted each company we met with at the Paris Air Show to know that Kansas is open for business and ready to partner with them.”

CE Machine was one of the companies that partnered with the GWEDC and the state to exhibit.

“It was a good opportunity,” said Ryan Smith, CE Machine director of business development. The company went to the Farnborough Air Show in England last year. It was the first time it had exhibited at the Paris show.

CE Machine returned with about 10 leads for new and existing work.

“I think it’s always good to see what’s going on in the industry,” Smith said. “I thought the show was great for the company.”

One of the GWEDC’s goals at the show was to continue to nurture Wichita’s relationship with Airbus as it moves forward in building its U.S. footprint, Teufel said.

Airbus held a busy supplier conference at the National Center for Aviation Training last year. The seed for that conference was planted at the last Paris Air Show two years ago.

“That turned into a very strong opportunity for Wichita to grow,” Teufel said.

Wichita companies at the show were able to talk to Airbus procurement officials for the U.S. and get an update on where they are in their procurement strategy, she said.

GWEDC and Airbus officials also met to talk about “some follow-on things to bring more opportunities for our companies,” Teufel said.

For one, the GWEDC plans to help build an aerospace database of information listing the machining, heat treat, processing and capabilities and specialties of the local companies.

That will be an important reference.

Airbus has a complex template for the information, she said.

GWEDC officials also worked to bring attention to Boeing’s Wichita facilities.

The Boeing office complex has been up for sale since February. The rest of the site, including the hangars, is now up for sale as well, Teufel said.

“Everyone was very intrigued with what was going to be the future of that site,” she said.

The Kansas exhibit had marketing brochures at the show. And they held some good conversations about the site, she said.

“We did get into some pretty deep conversations with companies that we felt like are a good fit and they have an investment strategy,” Teufel said. “You’ll definitely see more to come. We hope that this results in some future site visits.”

The commerce department and the GWEDC partnered on the exhibit, with support from U.S. Small Business Administration State Trade and Export Promotion, or STEP, grants.

The six companies that shared booth space received help in defraying costs with the STEP grants.