Education

How employment is faring at WSU’s first Innovation Campus partnership

Airbus grand opening at Wichita State campus

Airbus executives near and far celebrated on Thursday, April 27, 2017, the opening of Airbus Americas Engineering building at Wichita State University's Innovation Campus.
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Airbus executives near and far celebrated on Thursday, April 27, 2017, the opening of Airbus Americas Engineering building at Wichita State University's Innovation Campus.

Wichita State University’s first major partnership building on the Innovation Campus employs 11 students this semester.

They work in the new Airbus building off of 17th Street on campus.

Eleven students working for Airbus falls short of what was discussed in an Innovation Campus resolution from 2015, which said “as many as 200 WSU engineering students” could work there as the France-based airplane maker relocated its engineering center.

Airbus itself has about 270 employees in the new building. That’s down from the 400 predicted in the university’s 2015 announcement.

But officials hope the number of jobs, student and otherwise, will grow as the Innovation Campus becomes more established. WSU’s Vice President for Strategic Communications Lou Heldman said the number of students working at the Airbus building was not below expectations.

“We’re in the first year so, no, those are good numbers,” Heldman said. “It’s working well from their (Airbus leadership’s) perspective and it’s certainly working well from our perspective.”

“We wanted them to come onto campus as a proof of concept of the applied learning model with professionals working alongside students and faculty and staff,” he added. “And it’s off to a great start.”

In March 2015, Airbus announced it was moving its Wichita engineering center from Old Town to a new building on the university's Innovation Campus, a 120-acre development on the former Braeburn Golf Course.

WSU and Airbus said at the time the move would bring around 400 employees to the Innovation Campus and “many opportunities for applied learning in aerospace engineering.”

The relocation would also allow Airbus “to grow its work force and to employ as many as 200 WSU engineering students in the development of aerospace technology,” according to minutes from a May 2015 meeting of the Wichita State Innovation Alliance.

The Innovation Alliance is the nonprofit organization responsible for governing the Innovation Campus.

As many as 200 WSU student engineers predicted in 2015 to work for Airbus

14 WSU students working there in the spring 2017 semester

11 WSU students working there in the fall 2017 semester

WSU spokesman Joe Kleinsasser said 11 students from Wichita State currently work at Airbus through applied learning programs.

“That includes two business interns, so they aren’t all engineering,” he said.

Kleinsasser said 14 WSU students worked there in the spring semester.

We’re in the first year so, no, those are good numbers…It will absolutely grow over time. I expect there will be periods where they’ll be more and I expect there will be periods where they’ll be fewer.

Wichita State Vice President for Strategic Communications Lou Heldman

Heldman pointed to praise from Airbus company leaders about the new building and the model it represents. He also said employment will rise and fall “based on the engineering needs of the time.”

“It will absolutely grow over time,” Heldman said. “I expect there will be periods where they’ll be more, and I expect there will be periods where they’ll be fewer.”

“But the important thing is that they’re getting established on campus and they’re adding a lot to the campus atmosphere,” he added.

When asked later if there was an agreement governing how many students Airbus would employ on the Innovation Campus, Heldman said Airbus was bringing employees of its business partners like Dassault Systemes, Hexagon and Boston Consulting Group “to Wichita who are exposed to our students, researchers and facilities.”

“We fully expect that our collaboration with Airbus will, as the years go by, yield large numbers of campus applied learning jobs and well-paid careers for our graduates,” Heldman wrote in an e-mail. “Our belief isn’t based on a contract holding Airbus to an arbitrary number. It is based on decades of experience working with the aerospace industry.”

There won’t be official enrollment figures by field until after the 20th day of school. But there were 486 aerospace engineering students - 362 undergraduates and 124 graduates - at WSU in the fall 2016 semester.

400 Airbus employees that would move to Innovation Campus in 2015 announcement

270 Airbus employees currently working in Partnership 1 building in August 2017

Kleinsasser said Airbus has about 270 employees in the new Innovation Campus building. That’s down from the 400 predicted in the university’s 2015 announcement.

The final group of Airbus employees started work at the Innovation Campus building this January, with a grand-opening ceremony in April.

Airbus Americas spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn wrote in an e-mail that the company’s policy is to not predict specific numbers of future employees because “our industry is cyclical in demand over the decades.”

“We value greatly our ability to be flexible in growing our workforce to meet those changing demands,” she wrote. “We typically predict general, steady growth in our workforce worldwide, but we do not predict specific numbers for specific locales.”

It is our policy not to predict specific numbers of employees/team members in the future…We typically predict general, steady growth in our workforce worldwide, but we do not predict specific numbers for specific locales.

Airbus Americas Engineering Spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn

John O’Leary, Airbus Americas Engineering vice president and general manager of the Wichita operation, previously told The Eagle that employment was in a “little bit of a lull” largely from new airplane programs that have moved from development to full production, requiring fewer engineers.

MWCB, LLC financed and managed the project to build the facility, known as the Partnership 1 building. MWCB is a firm made up of Wichita businessmen David Murfin, Nestor Weigand Jr., Ivan Crossland and Steve Barrett.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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