Spirit pays millions of dollars in bonuses to Wichita workers

It could be a good weekend for area retailers, restaurants, car dealers.

That’s because on Thursday the roughly 11,500 Wichita employees of Spirit AeroSystems all received bonuses.

A company official would not say just how much employees will take home because of the aircraft supplier’s financial performance in 2017. Spirit reported a 13 percent year-over-year increase in profit on revenue of $7 billion in 2017.

But she suggested the total amount of bonus money is substantial.

“I can’t give you a dollar figure (but) today there will be millions of dollars infused into the Wichita economy through these payouts,” Debbie Gann, Spirit’s vice president of communications, said Thursday.

The bonuses are awarded through the company’s short-term incentive plan.

Gann said the bonuses are awarded annually only if Spirit meets or exceeds the financial and operational goals set by its board of directors.

“I wish it happened all the time,” she said.

The bonuses are greater if the company exceeds those goals.

“The more successful we are, the bigger the payout,” Gann said.

Individual bonuses will differ based on a number of factors, she said, including whether employees are represented by a union.

“Depending on what union they’re in, their percentage might vary based on their contract,” Gann said.

For instance, Spirit engineers represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace’s Wichita Engineering Unit are receiving a bonus of 12.8 percent of their 2017 base salary plus overtime, according to SPEEA’s newsletter.

That means an engineer who made $70,000 at Spirit last year would receive a bonus of $8,960.

Spirit workers represented by SPEEA’s Wichita Technical and Professional Unit will receive a bonus of 9.6 percent of their 2017 base salary plus overtime, according to the union’s newsletter.

Word of the bonuses made one Wichita car dealer happy.

“You just made my day better than it was five minutes ago,” Sean Tarbell, president of Davis-Moore Auto Group, said after he was told of the Spirit bonuses.

“We definitely see an uptick (in sales) when something like this happens,” Tarbell said. “I would say it’s probably a good thing for most retailers in town.”

Malcolm Harris, an economist and professor at Friends University, said that’s typically what happens when workers receive a large bonus — they go out and purchase a big-ticket item like an automobile, as well as make more frequent outings to restaurants.

But that’s not always the case.

“If they consider this to be ongoing, a sign of better income (ahead), they’ll spend it on day-to-day stuff,” such as groceries and clothing.

Either way, “it’s perfectly rational behavior and it’s been well documented by economists,” Harris said.

That Spirit, the city’s largest employer, is paying bonuses to its workers says something about the state of the company, Harris said. It means Spirit executives are feeling good about the health of the company, and freeing its pursestrings.

“That’s a good, leading indicator that the local economy is in good shape,” he said.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark