David Franson
January 5, 2012

BOEING: Moving and Shaking

Tough news greeted the Wichita Aviation community with the coming of the new year–Boeing will close its Wichita facilities over the next 24 months. After 83 years, the “Air Capital of the World” will be without one of its biggest aviation entities. The decision gives new, and unwelcome, meaning to the terms “movers” and “shakers” as it applies to the corporate giant. Their move definitely shakes things up in Wichita and in Kansas.

The local community feels betrayed–and congressional representatives and the Governor have all voiced a sense of dismay over “broken promises” from Boeing that they would build the KC-46 Tanker in Wichita. While these feelings are understandable and justified, based on impressions Boeing cultivated during the tanker competition, all of the government leaders would agree that a business should NOT be compelled to do something that is economically detrimental because of government perceptions. The crux of this situation is that Boeing utilized the clout and voice of the state of Kansas, its state and federal political leaders and the commitment of its workforce to influence the eventual decision…and now the company is taking another direction. It’s a great disappointment to all of us in the community and the aviation industry because Boeing’s considerable presence will be missed and impossible to replace. Local charities just took a tremendous hit. The city’s reputation as the “Air Capital of the World,” just lost some of its luster. The state’s major educational institutions face the loss of a key collaborative partner.

Boeing’s protestations notwithstanding, the local economy will be severely impacted in a negative way, too…not to mention the workforce that will soon be faced with the prospects of relocation (the best alternative in most cases), retirement (for those who can qualify) or joining the already-swollen ranks of the unemployed. It’s hard not to be angry, but my dominant emotion is dismay. I feel for the workers who have given their professional lives to Boeing and who identify strongly with the company. In a few months, for many of them, they won’t have that relationship anymore. Loyalty to the company can be a powerful force in motivating people–and when it is no longer reciprocated–a huge deflator! When you’ve worked most of your life for one company it never feels right to work elsewhere.

I also can relate to our government officials; they worked tirelessly and took a lot of heat for their support of Boeing. They were overjoyed by the positive outcome that promised more jobs in Kansas. They feel they should be able to trust Boeing as much as they long to be trusted themselves! Silence, whether prudent or not on the company’s part, became deception and that never yields a good result. Finally, I can understand and even relate to Boeing, where the cost of doing business is a huge consideration. It has had to walk a fine line as studies were undertaken, alternatives considered, and decisions made. Timing, as always, is everything. Once the decision was made it was imperative that it be revealed in a proper and appropriate way. Like a physician with an ominous test result, they found themselves with no really good way to utter the bad news. Now, silence isn’t deception, it’s just the most prevalent reaction to the announcement we all feared. It’s easier to handle than tears…but it represents, in a graphic way, the void we all feel at the loss of Boeing in Wichita!

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