State officials say keeping aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft in Kansas shows importance of higher education system

? State officials say a deal keeping aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft in Kansas shows the importance of the state’s higher education system.

State officials gave Wichita-based Hawker Beechcraft a $40 million incentive package to stay in Kansas and retain at least 4,000 jobs over the next 10 years. A quarter of the package — $10 million — was in the form of tuition reimbursement and training for Hawker Beechcraft employees to attend the National Aviation Training Center at Wichita State University and other Kansas Regents institutions.

“We’re pleased that a key component of the incentive package was tuition reimbursement, as it underscores the critical role higher education plays in not only attracting new businesses to the state but also in retaining Kansas businesses,” said Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Gary Sherrer of Overland Park.

“Higher education is an economic engine, which is why a strong higher education system is so critically important to the future of our state,” Sherrer said.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, who announced the agreement, also praised the work-force training part of the package, saying it “will further solidify Wichita as having the best-trained aviation work force in the world.”

Their comments Tuesday came on the same day that Gov.-elect Sam Brownback pushed aside a proposal by the regents to increase higher education funding by $50 million next year. Part of the proposal would be linked to economic development in producing more engineering and health care professionals.

Higher education has been cut $100 million over the past two years as state revenues tanked during the recession.

But facing a projected $500 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, Brownback, a Republican, told the Lawrence Journal-World there is not enough money to fulfill the regents’ request.

The deal with Hawker Beechcraft, known mostly for producing business jets, was announced after months of negotiations prompted by news that Louisiana was trying to woo the company.

The remaining $30 million of the $40 million from the state will be in the form of bonds to purchase equipment or other business expenses. Those bonds will be paid off by employer withholding taxes. The city of Wichita and Sedgwick County kicked in a combined $5 million more in incentives, bringing the total deal to $45 million for Hawker Beechcraft.

Brownback, who takes office Jan. 10, issued a statement praising the deal.

“The implementation of this agreement will be a priority for my administration,” he said. He added, “I am committed to defending the Kansas aviation industry from other states and nations which have their sights on it and will fight fire with fire when necessary to ensure its continued success.”

Louisiana officials said they would continue talking with Hawker Beechcraft to locate some portion of the company’s operations to Baton Rouge, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Gov. Bobby Jindal told the newspaper that he met with Hawker Beechcraft chief executive officer Bill Boisture before the Kansas announcement. Jindal said the company still wanted to consider Louisiana in the future. “This is an industry that we are going to continue to target for growth,” Jindal said.