Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. To see stories like this sooner, subscribe to the print edition. Call 316-540-0500 to start home delivery of The Times-Sentinel, the Haysville Sun-Times or the Conway Springs Star.
By Sam Jack
Spirit AeroSystems, Sedgwick County’s largest employer, announced last week that it plans to spend $1 billion on capital improvements and add 1,000 employees to its workforce.
That could be good news for local manufacturers that do business with Spirit, such as Cheney’s Manufacturing Development Incorporated and Clearwater’s Charles Engineering.
“Spirit’s primary customer is Boeing, and Boeing is selling airplanes like maybe never before,” Charles Engineering president Jim Charles said. “So that business is going to be growing over the next several years – and Spirit is one of my largest customers. As they grow, it’s good for me, and for all local aerospace manufacturers.”
On Monday, Dec. 11, local Spirit supplier Lee Aerospace announced a deal to produce more parts for Spirit through 2023, in what could be the first of many such announcements.
The only potential negative for small businesses that work with Spirit would be a tightening of the job market, as Spirit seeks to hire 1,000 skilled employees in a county that is already at or near full employment.
“The market’s a little tight now, from my perspective,” Charles said. “People will move in and it will be more competitive, but companies that are paying fair wages and having good benefit plans, like Charles Engineering, I don’t think will have any trouble competing for employees.”
Charles was an outspoken opponent of a possible Tyson poultry plant in Sedgwick County. He believes that growth in the aerospace industry represents a better economic direction for the area.
“I’d rather see Spirit add 1,000 jobs than see Tyson add 1,600. It’s a lot better jobs at Spirit than it would’ve been at Tyson,” he said.
In a statement, Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr said that the expansion at Spirit will be one of a handful of “mega-projects” in the country.
“When the jobs are also high-paying aerospace jobs, the level of competition is even higher. We thank the state of Kansas for its leadership and for programs critical for business growth, and the city and county leadership for identifying innovative ways for shared investment. These efforts have helped create a long-term growth commitment from the state’s largest private-sector employer,” Fluhr said.