From the Opinion page:
STEVE ROONEY: DON'T SIT BACK AND LET AIRCRAFT INDUSTRY LEAVE
BY STEVE ROONEY
Patriotism is love of country, and it's also love of community. When our community is in danger, we rally together to fight for it.
The Machinists union is sounding the warning -- an early call to gather and fight for the aircraft industry, which is in danger of joining so many other industries in leaving for cheaper labor.
Aircraft has long been the lifeblood of Wichita. Many people can find "Rosie the Riveter" in their family tree, because Wichita churned out bombers during World War II.
When you walk down an assembly line, you can find third- and fourth-generation employees whose grandparents worked in the factories. The institutional knowledge in our work force is invaluable to the industry. Because of that, the industry is very healthy and profitable, and Wichita companies are innovative and put out high-quality products customers want to buy. One would think they wouldn't tinker with that success.
Yet it seems that some corporate leaders, with their eye on the bottom line above all else, don't understand this. An alarming plan, titled "Project Pelican," recently was discovered, detailing a Hawker Beechcraft plan to open a full final aircraft assembly facility in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Although Hawker Beechcraft is attempting to disavow the plan (July 1 Business), indications are it is on track to do that very thing. The company cites competition and being a global company as reasons. But to me, there is far more at stake here. What this is about is the future of the aircraft industry in Wichita.
When NAFTA was passed, the labor movement sounded the warning, which went unheeded. NAFTA proponents said the only jobs lost would be in low-skill industries.
Well, history has proved those predictions untrue, as factory after factory and industry after industry have shut their doors and left for cheap-labor havens such as Mexico and China.
The aviation industry is the last great American industry in which we indisputably lead the world. The good aircraft jobs in Wichita provide the ability to make a good living and raise a strong family. Aviation fuels a tax base that allows the city to be vibrant with good schools and services. In short, it makes Wichita a great city.
The skills that build these airplanes are American, and much of the technology on which these companies rely was developed with government funding. Wichita, in its wholehearted support of the industry, has built an entire infrastructure -- from a research center at Wichita State University to a soon-to-be-built National Center for Aviation Training -- so the city can provide the trained work force the industry needs.
There's no good reason for these companies to leave. The state and community put millions of tax dollars and incentives into these companies.
Some would say there's nothing we can do. I disagree. Americans are tired of the exodus of American industry, and we need to shake the rafters and demand that our legislators work to keep the aviation industry in America and in Wichita.
Steve Rooney is directing business representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District Lodge 70, Wichita.