Airbus announces move to Wichita State’s Innovation Campus (VIDEO)

Wichita State president John Bardo announces that Airbus will move its employees from downtown Wichita to WSU as part of new Innovation Campus.
Wichita State president John Bardo announces that Airbus will move its employees from downtown Wichita to WSU as part of new Innovation Campus. The Wichita Eagle

Airbus Americas, one of Wichita’s airplane manufacturing companies, announced that it is moving 400 employees and its Wichita engineering center from Old Town to a building soon to be built on the Wichita State University campus, WSU and company officials said Tuesday.

The move was previously reported last week by The Eagle and Kansas.com.

University leaders were euphoric about the announcement and about how the week started, with a historic men’s basketball win over the University of Kansas on Sunday. As big as that was, this announcement was bigger — bigger than even having multiple national basketball championships, President John Bardo said.

One basketball game makes people happy, WSU vice president John Tomblin said.

“But one basketball game doesn’t affect our kids and our grandkids,” he said.

This announcement does that, WSU officials said. It will create a new future for south-central Kansas, with jobs, innovation and partnerships with industry done in ways that didn’t happen before.

Barry Eccleston, Airbus’ CEO for its North American division, said the partnership is happening for the same reasons that Airbus first moved into Wichita with 30 engineers in 2002. Wichita, and now WSU, are where good engineers are.

Though Eccleston expressed enthusiasm for Tuesday’s announcement, he said everyone in the company right now is feeling sadness and compassion for the loss of life in Europe earlier Tuesday when news came that an Airbus-made plane crashed in France with all 150 people aboard apparently dead.

Airplane manufacturing has become more and more competitive, in the U.S. and elsewhere, Eccleston said. Airbus’ move means the company thinks WSU and its new innovation campus is where the company can not only continue to compete but to grow nationally and elsewhere.

The company will help WSU students learn, he said, and he said he thinks students and WSU faculty will help the company.

“It takes us eight years to develop a new airplane — and we want to do it quicker,” Eccleston said. “Again, the innovation campus can show us ways … moving here just makes damned good sense.”

Most of the Wichita employees of the France-based company are engineers who do design and stress work for wings and fuselages, Airbus officials have said. They will continue that work but there will be opportunities for applied learning for students, WSU officials have said.

With Gov. Sam Brownback looking on, Bardo said this agreement is another step toward building an innovation campus at WSU.

“This commitment by Airbus, one of the world’s leading design and manufacturing companies, represents a major step forward for our students and state,” Bardo said. “This secures WSU’s future as a global center of engineering and will encourage other world-class firms to locate on our campus.”

Airbus already has a long history of collaboration with WSU, especially with the university’s National Institute for Aviation Research, university officials have said. Collaborations have included work on composite materials and also the structural testing by NIAR of a pylon structure, designed by Airbus’ Wichita engineers.

Bardo and Tomblin have already won commitments from other companies to come to the innovation campus, though Airbus is now the largest. NetApp and the ABI Group are other companies already committed. There will be more, according to Bardo and Tomblin.

Bardo announced the innovation campus plans in January 2014 and led an effort to for the Wichita State Innovation Alliance Inc. to work with companies, investors and governments to develop the new 120-acre portion of campus on what was the Braeburn Golf Course, WSU said in a statement.

Brownback said this move — although it will not initially add new jobs — will help grow the state’s economy, and that the creation of the innovation campus “is a global model on how to move forward fast, efficiently, and how to train students.”

Airbus, when it makes the move, will take over a two-story, 90,000 square foot building yet to be built. That building, located north of 17th Street, will be solely for Airbus, and it will be ready for the company by January 2017, WSU officials said in a statement.

That building project is called “Partnership 1,” for now. The development firm MWCB LLC — led by David Murfin, Nestor Weigand Jr., Ivan Crossland Jr. and Steven Barrett — will finance and manage the project, WSU said in the statement. The Airbus building will go up close to NIAR’s headquarters and also close to WSU’s planned new Experiential Engineering Building and Community Maker Space, WSU said.

WSU also is talking with developers about a possible innovation campus residence hall and buildings that might include a combination of restaurant, retail shops, service and a hotel near 21st Street North and Oliver, WSU officials said.

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

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