Can Wichita Weather The Storm?
Wichita, Kan., has been the hub of the U.S. aircraft manufacturing industry since the 1920s, when the companies that would become Hawker Beechcraft, Cessna, and Boeing all had their roots there. But the current downturn has hit the city hard, with about a quarter of the aviation workforce laid off. According to a story in Monday's Wall Street Journal, the city may never recover those jobs. Many manufacturers had started work on new production facilities in China, Mexico, and elsewhere to increase capacity during the boom times, and when orders do start to pick up again, the work might go there, rather than back to Kansas. Company officials told the WSJ it's unlikely that they would expand their Wichita operations beyond today's level. Any future growth would probably happen abroad. "We're going out and trying to recruit new businesses here to diversify what we have," Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer told the WSJ. But some of those new businesses might still be in the aviation sector, he added.
Meanwhile, Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, has been asking President Barack Obama to visit Wichita to see the job losses that have resulted from negative characterizations of business jet use and the recession. Buffenbarger, who was a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, was in the news last year for angry remarks he made about then-Senator Obama and his supporters, in which he characterized Mr. Obama as two-faced and cowardly.