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Boeing To Close Wichita Defense Plant


In Wichita, Kansas, residents are reeling over yesterday's announcement that Boeing will close its massive defense plant there. Twenty-one hundred highly skilled jobs will be gone by the end of next year. The news sparked considerable frustration among elected officials who had been led to believe that more Boeing jobs were on the way to Wichita. Carla Eckels, of member station KMUW, has more.

CARLA ECKELS, BYLINE: Words like frustration, outrage, and betrayal about Boeing closing its doors for good here, are common. With half a dozen airplane manufacturers here, Wichita is known as the air capitol of the world. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer says it's hard to grasp that Boeing is leaving.

MAYOR CARL BREWER: This is something that's historic in the state of Kansas. Boeing has been here for 80 years. This is something like losing a family member, a family member walking away from the family, or if your wife walking away from you or your husband.

ECKELS: But Boeing's Vice President Mark Bass says it was a decision made only after a company review that began in August.

MARK BASS: Despite the best efforts of our Wichita employees, ongoing cost reduction initiatives are simply not yielding enough savings to make our Wichita facility competitive to maintain and win new business.

ECKELS: One major area of contention is the support Boeing got in helping it win one of the largest military contracts in history. An Air Force tanker deal, that promised 7500 jobs for Wichita. The Kansas delegation even celebrated that win with Boeing officials earlier this year.

But it was all for naught, and the jobs here will move to Texas, Oklahoma, and Washington. Kansas Representative Jim Ward says Boeing has benefited from numerous corporate tax incentives at every level of government, but, he says, Boeing did not return the courtesy.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM WARD: They didn't come to us and say here's the piece that's holding us up. Here's the thing that's going to make us back track on our promises to you. The only thing they didn't do was load the vans up at the middle of the night. There was not a situation where we said we said we weren't willing to talk to you about what it would take. They just weren't willing to talk to us.

ECKELS: Still, Boeing's Mark Bass says the aircraft company spends more than $3.2 billion with approximately 475 suppliers in Kansas, sustaining thousands of manufacturing jobs in the state.

BASS: It's important to note that even though the finishing center for the U.S. Air Force's KC 46 tanker will be moved to Puget Sound, Kansans will still have a vital role in production of that airplane.

ECKELS: Forty-three-year-old Kathy Watters-Allen has been an engineer at Boeing for 20 years. The company paid for her education. The mother of two says she doesn't know what she'll do next.

KATHY WATTERS-ALLEN: I don't know, it's very sad, very, very sad. You know, we have a long history with the Boeing Company, so I don't know. This announcement comes as kind of a surprise, but not really.

ECKELS: Other residents are also stunned by the reality of seeing one of the oldest airplane companies in the city preparing to take flight out of Kansas.

For NPR News, I'm Carla Eckels in Wichita. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carla Eckels is Director of Cultural Diversity for News and Engagement at KMUW. She has been an award-winning announcer and news producer for KMUW since 1996. Carla also produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsationsthat airs Sundays at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. She annually emcees Gospelfest at the Wichita River Festival and was voted Best Disc Jockey by subscribers of The Community Voice. Prior to coming to KMUW, Carla was the local host for NPR’s Morning Editionat WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and co-hosted a nationally syndicated gospel radio show in Cincinnati. Carla was also program director for KIBN, the Inspirational Black Network in Wichita, hosted the Joyful Sounds gospel show on Q92-FM and produced the number one gospel radio show on KSJM 107.9 JAMZ from 2004 to 2007.
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