There has been much discussion recently about the future of the aviation industry in Wichita, and it's an important discussion. We've let our dominance slide almost everywhere else, and we've lost manufacturing capacity to the siren call of cheap labor in other countries.
We must not let that happen in aerospace. We still dominate the world in technology, productivity and innovation. Our industry is vibrant and strong.
The worried comparison to Detroit is a fair one (Feb. 14 Business). Wichita is and always has been unique, a hub of companies comprising this industry since its birth.
The comparison should end there. Sadly, some of our companies have long looked at the cheap labor in Mexico and elsewhere. Hawker Beechcraft is closing the Salina facility, and much of that work is going to Mexico, China and India; none of it will stay in Kansas.
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If the aircraft companies decide to chase the cheap labor, Wichita has a real chance of becoming like Detroit. The threat is real and serious.
The companies also would hurt their own bottom line, as quality and workmanship suffer. The companies born in Wichita have proud names, and we don't want to see those names tarnished with the inferior products that would result from a cheap-labor business model.
There is another way, a better way. I agree completely with the leaders of our companies that we cannot rest on past accomplishments. We must press forward to stay on the leading edge.
To do so, we need a true partnership. Working together to increase productivity, but also to keep jobs in Wichita, not Mexico or elsewhere, is part of that partnership.
We've seen too many cities and states lose manufacturers, then pay millions of taxpayer dollars to lure something — anything — for jobs to keep from dying. It would be far more expensive to lose the aerospace industry and try to replace it than to nurture and support it, to keep it here.
The Machinists union supports a real and sustained partnership between our companies, the community, city and state government, and the work force in Wichita. We have the most experienced aviation work force in America, generations of hardworking Kansans who have airplanes in their blood.
The most important thing would be for our companies to stop treating the work force as a cost, but rather the strongest resource they have. If the companies would partner with the workers and their union, and empower the workers, the possibilities for innovation and increases in productivity are endless.
The rewards for doing so would be great. American workers can't compete with Third World wages. But the old adage is true: You get what you pay for. If our workers are empowered and unleashed, they are well worth the good wages and benefits they receive.
The local community must participate, too. We need a strong educational and training system that provides more skilled workers to grow this industry. As they are trained and enter the aviation work force, they will learn from the greatest aircraft workers in the world, to carry on the legacy we have been given.
The gauntlet is down; our union and our members care deeply for what we have built in the past century. Let's rise to the challenge of a great team, a community that refuses to give up on the last great American industry, and let's drive it on to greater heights in the Air Capital of the World.