The state’s largest private employer is in crisis.
Boeing’s recent announcement that it was halting production of the 737 Max airplane is a major blow to the Kansas aviation industry because Wichita-based Spirit Aerosystems, the state’s largest private employer, makes about 70 percent of Boeing’s 737 Max, including the fuselage.
Gov. Laura Kelly was in Wichita the day of Boeing’s announcement and met with Spirit CEO Tom Gentile to discuss how the state can support Spirit and its 13,000 employees in this uncertain time.
Following that conversation, Kelly told the Wichita Eagle, “What I’ve told Tom was that I’ve already gotten my secretary of labor together with my secretary of commerce, and they will be working with Spirit to bring all the resources that the state does have to offer to the table to help Spirit get through this.”
One of the state’s likely remedies is the shared-work program that enables employees to remain employees at Spirit, where they’ll receive a reduced paycheck, back-filled with unemployment benefits.
Sen. Jerry Moran spoke with President Trump on Sunday about the crisis upon which the president committed to do what he could to help.
Boeing’s announcement stopping production of the plane, which was grounded in March, means the Spirit workforce will return to work Jan. 6 to a plant that was producing 42 fuselages per month (down from 52 before the grounding) and now is making zero.
Company officials have said employees can do other within the plant, but it’s unclear for how long.
For the supply chain that supports Spirit’s work for Boeing, the announcement is impacting its businesses. The south-central region has hundreds of small and mid-size businesses working to supply parts to Spirit, and their workforce will likely experience disruptions as furloughs, layoffs and terminations. They also need resources to ensure their talented workforce is compensated during this downturn and not enticed to move to other states.
The aviation industry, while known for swings of prosperity and decline, is a major part of the Kansas economy and the life’s work of many Kansas families. Other states have recognized the value of aviation jobs and are competing with Kansas in this sector for the talent pool. We have an exceptionally skilled workforce, and Kansas can’t risk the loss of any of our talent.
Without question, federal, state and local officials must come together to ensure all remedies are used to retain the talented men and women who have built the Air Capital region. We know the state is experiencing an export of talent. It’s an issue that needs our attention in all sectors but is particularly urgent now for the aviation sector.
No matter where you live in the state, ensuring resources for our disrupted workforce demands bipartisan cooperation and problem solving.
Working together, we can minimize the fallout from Boeing’s decisions until Spirit and its supply chain are back on solid ground.