As shock over Boeing’s bad news for Wichita settles into pained resignation, locals and all Kansans are left to wonder what went wrong and, more important, what happens now.
Should Wichita work harder to recruit and keep aircraft-manufacturing companies?
Should it devote more attention and resources to realizing the area’s potential as a locus of aviation research, development and entrepreneurship?
Does Wichita need to diversify its economy, stepping farther out front on advanced manufacturing and making more of the state’s bioscience initiative?
Should it do more to support local startups?
Can the state help through tax policy and economic development?
Do unions need to consider themselves not only part of the problem – if Boeing’s assertions about Wichita’s steeply higher labor costs can be believed – but also part of the solution?
Every answer must be “yes” – to those questions and many others that leaders had better be thinking to ask.
Every “no” has the potential to push more Wichita jobs and companies toward the door.
This is no time to set aside eight decades of proud aviation heritage or discount the drawing power of a skilled workforce, first-class research and training facilities, and critical mass of expertise.
Not with Spirit AeroSystems, the former Boeing Wichita commercial division, enjoying the boom in the commercial aviation market; Bombardier Learjet aiming for an $52.7 million expansion at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport; and demand finally rising for business jets.
And not with the National Center for Aviation Training positioned to ready the workers the industry needs, as Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research prepares for an exciting expansion into the former Kansas Coliseum complex.
“I think NIAR’s incredibly important,” Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, told The Eagle editorial board last week, also saying that “workforce issues absolutely matter, because they’re part of the competitiveness model.”
A WSU-hosted roundtable discussion at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Marcus Welcome Center also is on the right track, with John Fernandez, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, joining state and local officials to highlight WSU’s federal Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge investments related to advanced manufacturing.
Gov. Sam Brownback, who’ll give his second State of the State address Wednesday, promised in his 2011 speech that his “administration’s first priority will be creating jobs that provide more income and opportunity for Kansas families.”
The same month, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer declared, “We must make sure that everyone who wants a job has a job.”
With Wichita newly facing the loss of 2,100 Boeing jobs, on top of 300 recent Hawker Beechcraft layoffs and another 90 or so at Coleman Co., such words take on new urgency for 2012.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman