Wichita Republican gubernatorial nominee Sam Brownback envisions a future of commercial space flight where existing aircraft makers in Kansas use their expertise and infrastructure to work with private space companies to design and build spaceships.
The U.S. senator from Kansas dreams of enticing aerospace companies to locate facilities in his home state.
But as Brownback unveiled his so-called road map for Kansas aviation Tuesday he also grappled with present-day realities: an industry battered by a global economic downturn, foreign competition from subsidized companies and efforts by other states to lure those Kansas companies and their high-paid jobs elsewhere.
“Kansas needs to be proactive instead of reactive on new program starts and be prepared for the future direction of the industry,” Brownback said.
He wants to form an aviation advisory committee of industry leaders to develop a strategy for current challenges and future opportunities. He wants to build Wichita State University’s aerospace engineering program into the nation’s best. He wants to work with the National Center for Aviation Training and the National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita to keep the city hold on to its self-styled “Air Capital of the World” status.
Brownback said Kansas has to defend its aviation industry aggressively with tax and regulatory policies that encourage growth.
The Republican campaign rhetoric drew a quick response from the camp of his Democratic opponent, Tom Holland.
Holland’s campaign spokesman, Seth Bundy, said in an e-mail that while Brownback is waiting for his advisory committee to get back to him with some ideas, Holland has put forth concrete commitments to invest in training the Kansas work force and expand research at the state’s colleges and universities.
“If Sam Brownback really wanted to help this industry, he shouldn’t have voted to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out the Wall Street crooks who created this mess, and then voted against unemployment assistance for the thousands of laid-off aviation workers in Kansas,” Bundy said.
Brownback’s news conference came on the heels of a meeting with the Wichita Aero Club in which he spoke briefly about the possibilities of commercial space travel and the vision of a commercial space operation with products built in Wichita.