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Boeing’s move a bitter pill

By Walt Braun

Kansans have reason to be disappointed by the Boeing Co., decision to close its Wichita facilities within two years. The move is a blow both to the Kansas economy and to the more than 2,100 Wichita Boeing workers who will lose their jobs.

Although the decision wasn’t entirely surprising, a move that Boeing presumably made for business reasons constitutes a double-cross to Kansas Lawmakers. And small wonder. As Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran told the Associated Press, Kansans were stout advocates for Boeing in its protracted struggle to win a $35 billion contract to build scores of next-generation Air Force refueling tankers. Sen. Roberts said Boeing had promised to remain in Wichita if it won that contract.

Boeing had been expected to substantially boost employment in Wichita. Instead, the bulk of those jobs will go to Seattle, and many of the existing Wichita jobs will go to facilities in Oklahoma and Texas.

Boeing Vice President Mark Bass said the market had changed in the last 18 months and the Wichita facility was no longer competitive.

Sen. Moran wasn’t buying that. “Boeing’s announcement is that things have changed. Well, the only thing that really has changed in my mind in the last year is Boeing now has the contract. When they made the commitments (to Wichita), they didn’t.”

Although state officials are still working with Boeing, Sen. Moran pointedly added, “It’s difficult to negotiate with someone who hasn’t kept their word.”

For his part, Gov. Sam Brownback sounded more disappointed than bitter, but did say, “No one worked harder for the success of the Boeing Co. than Team Kansas… Our team never wavered, always keeping its commitment to the success of the Boeing Co., for the good of the state and the nation. The dedication and hard work of generations of Kansans built the success the Boeing Co. enjoys today.”

While not diminishing the loss, the governor, to his credit, extolled Wichita’s superb facilities and workforce and vowed to help pursue commercial aviation opportunities, whether they involve Boeing, Airbus or other manufacturers. It’s worth noting that Spirit AeroSystems has taken over Boeing’s commercial operations and continues to make parts for Boeing in Wichita.

There’s no denying the blow that Boeing’s decision has inflicted on Wichita and the state. Still,  there’s plenty to build on, and Kansans are nothing if not resilient. We’ve endured the recession better than most states, and we can, and will, recover from this disappointment as well.

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