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Archive for Saturday, February 19, 2005

Firm splitting Wichita complex among buyers

February 19, 2005

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— Boeing Co. is trying to sell the vast majority of its 1,200-acre complex in Wichita to a new owner, while parceling off some buildings to other buyers.

A site map details the proposed property split after the sale of the company's commercial operations in Wichita. The Chicago-based aerospace giant has been trying to sell its commercial operations in Wichita -- as well as in Tulsa and McAlester, Okla. -- for more than a year as part of a strategy to focus on design and final assembly.

Boeing spokesman Dick Ziegler said the company had two other buildings and properties at its Wichita complex now up for sale in addition to those involved in commercial operations. Boeing has allowed leases to expire on some other buildings, he said.

"We have got to reduce the size of our footprint," Ziegler said.

Ziegler cautioned that several versions of the map have been circulating in the plant. The property Boeing retains to house its defense work in Wichita -- most notably the modification building, two nearby hangars and the flight line -- would still be "huge" after a sale, he said.

On the map, most of the 12.5 million square feet of covered buildings that now comprise Boeing's Wichita complex are enclosed within the boundary areas designated for the buyer of Boeing's commercial operations. The map also notes negotiations are under way with a third party for one warehouse.

"It's shocking to see it on paper -- how much of the facility is no longer going to be a part of Boeing," said Bill Dugovich, a spokesman for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

None of the documents obtained by The Associated Press confirmed the identity of a buyer, which was obliquely referred to in internal company documents as "NewCo." While similar, this latest version of the site map appears far more polished than a map that leaked earlier in the sale process.

About 7,200 people work in Boeing's commercial airplane operation in Wichita, with as many 1,300 jobs based at the smaller plants in Oklahoma. The company's defense division and its 5,000 workers in Wichita are not involved in any sale.

Bob Brewer, the union's Midwest director, said he was not concerned "at all" by the map's split of the Boeing property. He said the buildings designated for the new buyer were production operations that contain huge machinery and planes.

Brewer said it would be "misconceiving" to look at the map in terms of workers because among the buildings Boeing would keep include office complexes that accommodate hundreds of workers.

Harry Stonecipher, Boeing's chief executive, said in a conference call with analysts Feb. 2 that he anticipated an announcement to be made on the sale within 10 to 20 days, and that he had no indications a sale would mean a decline in employment levels in Wichita.

"I will be glad when it comes because there has been too long of a period of uncertainty," said John Jeckles, who works on government cost proposals for Boeing's defense systems.

Brewer said whether the sale was good for Wichita workers depended not so much on who purchased the facility as much as the process that followed the sale.

"We are going to have to find ways to do things better, cheaper, faster," Brewer said. "We think there are lots of right and wrong ways to do that."

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