Boeing's Wichita plant closure costs jobs

Jan. 4, 2012 at 5:22 PM
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WICHITA, Kan., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Boeing, citing cuts in military spending, will close its Wichita, Kan., defense plant within two years, raising questions about the fate of more than 2,160 jobs.

Boeing said the decision to shut its Defense, Space and Security facility was difficult but ultimately driven by market trends and the need to remain competitive.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said the city had no contact with the Boeing Co. regarding its plans for closing the facility.

"If they stay, we will embrace them and work with them just as we always have," he said, quoted in the Wichita Business Journal.

Should Boeing choose to leave, Brewer said, the city will have time to formulate its next move.

"We'll have some time. It won't happen overnight," the mayor added. "We will try and make it as painless as possible for the employees. And we will continue to work to bring in some new business to fill that gap."

Boeing's Wichita plant, inherited from Stearman Aircraft, which the company bought in 1929, originally had about 15,000 employees but cutbacks and transfer of operations brought the force down over the years.

Closure appeared in the cards after U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said he learned from a lobbyist Boeing planned to move the operations from Wichita to Washington state.

The plant's main contract for building U.S. Air Force refueling tankers was originally expected to create more jobs in Wichita.

Union leaders had predicted the closure and Boeing finally broke the news Wednesday at a meeting of its employees.

"The decision to close our Wichita facility was difficult but ultimately was based on a thorough study of the current and future market environment and our ability to remain competitive while meeting our customers' needs with the best and most affordable solutions," said Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for BDS' Maintenance, Modifications and Upgrades division.

"We recognize how this will affect the lives of the highly skilled men and women who work here, so we will do everything possible to assist our employees, their families and our community through this difficult transition."

Boeing Wichita is the base for the company's Global Transport and Executive Systems business and its B-52 and 767 International Tanker programs. The facility also provides support for flight mission planning and integrated logistics.

Boeing said over the past five years, contracts in Wichita have matured, programs have come to a close or are winding down and the site doesn't have enough sustainable business on the horizon to create an affordable cost structure to maintain and win new business.

"In this time of defense budget reductions, as well as shifting customer priorities, Boeing has decided to close its operations in Wichita to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and drive competitiveness," said Bass.

"We will begin program transitions in the coming months, with the complete closure of the site scheduled for the end of 2013. We do not anticipate job reductions as a result of this decision until early in the third quarter of 2012."

Bass said that Boeing will continue to have a significant impact on the Kansas economy and the health of the state's aerospace industry.

"The company spent more than $3.2 billion with approximately 475 Kansas suppliers in 2011, spanning its commercial and defense businesses, making it the fourth largest state in Boeing's supplier network," said Bass.

Future aircraft maintenance, modification and support work will be placed at the Boeing facility in San Antonio. Engineering work will be placed at the Boeing facility in Oklahoma City.

Although work on the KC-46 tanker will now be performed in Puget Sound, Wash., the 24 Kansas suppliers on the program will be providing vital elements of the aircraft as originally planned, Boeing said.

Brewer said the city, which prides itself as being the air capital of the world, has a long history with Boeing, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on its Web site.

"Many people -- generations upon generations -- have had an opportunity to be employed there and that could very easily be the end of that ... They are a very important part of us here," the mayor said.

But he said the city would move on and take care of those families and continue working to be the "air capital of the world."

"This is not the first time we have had something of this magnitude. We have had other challenges and we have always managed to work through it and been able to survive," Brewer said.

"But it would be different to a certain extent because of the fact that, you know, it is kind of like family that you actually have and a member of the family is moving away," Brewer said. "So there is a lot of emotional and economic attachment tied to this."

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