Boeing’s decision to move its last operations out of Wichita is an economic blow that will reverberate throughout the state.
Company officials announced Wednesday that reductions in the federal defense budget would force it to close its defense plant in Wichita by the end of 2013, costing the city more than 2,100 jobs. The work being done in Wichita will be spread to other Boeing facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Washington. Wichita officials said the closure would result in a loss of $1.5 billion in wages over 10 years.
The decision to move work on a new Air Force refueling tanker to Puget Sound, Wash., was especially hard for Kansas government officials to swallow. Sen. Jerry Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts both issued statements only minutes after Boeing’s announcement saying they were “outraged” (Moran) and “hugely disappointed” (Roberts) by Boeing’s announcement. The Kansas congressional delegation and top state officials had worked hard to help Boeing land the tanker project, a move the company had said would bring about 7,500 jobs to Kansas.
To the officials, Boeing’s decision to close the plant represents a broken promise to the state. Moran even called on Boeing to reconsider its decision and promised, “In the days ahead, I will continue to do all I can to encourage Boeing to fulfill their pledge to the Wichita community.”
Those are nice words, but Boeing’s announcement is a sad reminder that business is business and the aircraft company is going to do what is in its own best interests regardless of any nonbinding “pledge” to Wichita or Kansas.
Boeing’s exit will end an 80-year relationship with Wichita that began when the company bought the Stearman Aircraft Co in 1929. During World War II, the company employed more than 40,000 people, including many women, and churned out four bombers a day. Boeing sold its commercial aircraft operation in 2005 but retained 4,500 workers in its defense division. Layoffs have cut that number to the current 2,100.
The general aviation and military aircraft business have been a mainstay of the state’s economy for decades and earned Wichita the designation of “Air Capital of the World.” As Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer noted after Wednesday’s announcement, “… there is a lot of emotional and economic attachment tied to this.”
Brewer noted that the city had faced similar challenges before but would continue to support its other aircraft employers, including Spirit AeroSystems, which took over Boeing’s commercial operations in 2005.
Wichita and the rest of the state have no choice but to make the best of things, but Boeing’s exit will be a significant loss for Kansas.