In a move Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer called “the biggest news for this state in a long time,” Spirit AeroSystems announced Wednesday that it plans to add 1,400 more jobs in Wichita next year. That’s in addition to the 1,000 jobs — and $1 billion in infrastructure — it promised the city at this time last year.
“We have completed hiring that first 1,000, and in fact we have exceeded it,” Spirit President and CEO Tom Gentile said at a news conference on Wednesday.
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Spirit is already Wichita’s largest employer. The latest announcement signals the company’s commitment to the city’s future and could pump tens of millions of dollars into the local economy each year, officials said.
With a growing presence in the defense sector and general aviation expected to continue expanding, Spirit expects to be able to compete globally by hiring “the best aviation workers in the world” in Wichita, Gentile said.
The announcement to add 1,400 jobs came a little over a year after the company announced it would add 1,000 new jobs — 800 in 2018 and 200 in 2019. The company reached that goal within a few months this year, Gentile said.
“Spirit is the kind of company that under promises and over delivers,” Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said.
Longwell said the new jobs are important to all Wichitans, whether they work in aviation or not.
“It truly adds extra dimensions to our community,” Longwell said.
“Those 1,400 jobs are going to introduce almost $75 million annually to this community,” Longwell said. “It’s more housing, it’s retail workers, it’s hospitality industry workers — it’s supply chain.”
As part of the company’s expansion, it also announced last December that it would invest $1 billion in capital improvements at its Wichita plant by 2023.
Last month, the company said it would add 320 new jobs as part of an $18 million bond request approved by the Wichita City Council. Those jobs would be in addition to the 1,000 jobs announced last December.
The new jobs will bring the number of Spirit employees in Wichita from 11,000 on the day of the announcement last December to 13,400 at the end of 2019, Gentile said.
The aircraft supplier and city’s largest employer revealed plans in May for a 150,000-square-foot building — part of the $1 billion expansion that includes 1,000 new jobs.
The majority of the added jobs will be hourly positions, Gentile said, including mechanics, machine operators, sheet metal workers and people working with composites and metallics. Most jobs will be “assembly-line” work with market-rate salaries, he said.
The average salary for the new jobs will be $56,000 a year, said Keturah Austin, senior spokesperson for Spirit.
Colyer said these added jobs will keep Kansas competitive in a growing global industry.
“This isn’t just about this generation. This is about people’s children and grandchildren. It’s about keeping kids here, in Kansas,” Colyer said.
“We recognize that the strength of Spirit is the strength of Wichita and vital to the ongoing economic health of our state,” Gov.-elect Laura Kelly said, while pledging to work with the business community to improve economic development in the state when she takes office next month.
A growing demand
“In many respects, this is the golden age of aviation,” Gentile said to a crowd of Spirit employees, local media and government officials packed into the IPB-4 Building, where the company manufactures thrust reversers for the Boeing 737.
“We’re growing in terms of air traffic. There’s an incredible demand for new aircraft, and we are building more aircraft than ever before, so we need more people as we go up in production rate,” Gentile said.
Gentile said only about 20 percent of people in the world have ever boarded an airplane, but 100 million people in Asia are taking their first flight each year.
“So there’s this incredible demand,” Gentile said.
In fact, there’s such a demand for commercial aircraft that Boeing and Airbus, the two major aircraft companies Spirit contracts with, have eight years worth of work that’s waiting to be completed.
“The current backlog is 13,000 aircraft between Boeing and Airbus, worth $2 trillion. Spirit’s fortunate to have work packages on all of those,” Gentile said.
Boeing and Airbus are looking to increase their production rates, Gentile said, and he wants to grow Spirit’s workforce to a size that can handle the new work.
Who will fill the jobs?
The “fast-track” to a job at Spirit is WSU Tech, Gentile said. The technical school, formerly known as Wichita Area Technical College, re-branded through an affiliation with Wichita State. It offers certification and training that qualify them for jobs at Spirit.
Gentile said Spirit has been able to surpass new jobs expectations because of the partnership the company has with government, including support for WSU Tech and the “intellectual horsepower” offered by the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State.
Both of those programs received substantial support from the state and county to boost certifications for aviation workers and research and development, including an additional $5 million for NIAR and $1.7 million for NCAT, Gentile said. He said more than 200 WSU students have been involved in the research and development initiatives.
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle said the partnership between state government, through funding to WSU and NIAR, has created a “pipeline” for young Kansans to careers in the aviation industry.
“We now have a pipeline of young people who are excited about our growth in aviation and they’re looking forward to working here,” Wagle said.