Recession is still battering Wichita

During Thursday’s 4th Congressional District debate, people in the audience chuckled at the notion that the recession is officially over. And that was before Hawker Beechcraft’s Friday announcement that it would lay off 350 salaried employees — news that followed the 700 job cuts announced earlier in the week by Cessna Aircraft, which had cut short the relief of having avoided a Machinists union strike at Cessna.

Just as the community seems to catch a break, it takes another blow.

It will be painful to see another 1,050 families go through the stress, worry and instability of joblessness. Meanwhile, more trouble could be coming: Hawker Beechcraft has said it might move production work out of the state or country, depending in part on the outcome of an Oct. 9 vote by workers represented by the Machinists union on a to-be-offered contract.

The worst worry is that the company might leave its hometown entirely. With the ripple effect, that would represent an estimated 3 percent loss of wages to the local economy — a painful hit, though not a death blow.

This latest wave of aviation layoffs, on top of the more than 10,000 since 2008, obligate local elected officials to evaluate their response to the job losses and the competitive threats to Wichita’s aircraft-manufacturing industry. Such times demand strong and coordinated leadership, whether it’s aimed at cushioning the impact on the newly unemployed or fighting any move by Hawker Beechcraft.

General aviation and Wichita’s vital place in the state economy also should be on the minds of lawmakers in Topeka as the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development meets Monday and Tuesday. Fewer people working in Wichita means less revenue for state government to run on and more demand for state-administered unemployment benefits and state-funded social services.

At Thursday’s debate, the voters got a sense of how the candidates seeking to succeed Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, would approach the challenge of getting the economy moving.

“It is very, very important that we have public-private partnerships that actually create good, high-quality, high-paying jobs,” said state Rep. Raj Goyle, D-Wichita, the Democratic nominee. He pointed to his legislative record as having helped create jobs and decried “a reflexive ideology that says ‘get the government the heck out of the way.’”

Businessman Mike Pompeo, the GOP nominee, singled out government as the problem, starting at the White House. “When these companies are deciding how to grow their business and how to create wealth for their shareholders and how to grow jobs, when they’re making those decisions, they stare at an America with the worst corporate tax policy in the Western industrialized world,” Pompeo said. “That’s not inviting. That’s not encouraging. That’s not going to spur growth. That’s not going to make people invest in America.”

We’ve said it before: Wichita is no Detroit. The strength of its work force and the density of its aviation cluster still give Wichita a firm hold on its title of “Air Capital of the World.”

For now, though, experts’ assurances about the economy aren’t selling well in Wichita — and won’t until new airplanes are selling well around the nation and globe.