In a huge dose of good economic news for Wichita, Spirit AeroSystems announced Wednesday it would add 1,000 jobs and invest $1 billion in its factory.
“When you think about economic development, this announcement actually places us in a very distinctive class of cities across the country,” Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr said. “A project consisting of this magnitude of employee growth and investment is considered a mega project. And I will tell you that in a given year there are very few across the country that exist.”
It is the largest jobs announcement made in the area since at least the recession of 2009, officials from the Greater Wichita Partnership said.
The jobs to be added over two years will pay an average of $56,000 a year, not including bonuses and overtime. Most will be hourly, including sheet metal mechanics, composite technicians and CNC machine operators.
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Wichita and Sedgwick County will jointly invest in a $14.5 million building at Spirit’s factory on South Oliver. And Spirit will invest in new machinery and equipment, including for its new 5-Axis Center of Excellence that it created earlier this year. The company’s investment will be made over five years.
The announcement marks a new and expanded direction for the company that started as a spin-off from Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
In 2005, the company had 7,200 workers in Wichita and was building 21 Boeing 737 fuselages a month, CEO Tom Gentile said. Today, it has 11,000 Wichita employees, has added work on Airbus aircraft parts and fuselages, and is building 47 737 fuselages a month. That will increase to 52 a month next year.
“So we’ve more than doubled in terms of our production capacity,” Gentile said just of the company’s 737 work. “And it means we are literally bursting at the seams.”
More recently the company has increased its work on defense aircraft, including the KC-46 air refueling tanker and the Sikorsky CH53K heavy lift helicopter. It has been tapped as one of seven suppliers for the new B-21 Raider jet bomber. Under Gentile, who was named the CEO less than two years ago, the company has made a push to expand its parts fabrication work to a broader base of aircraft manufacturers and suppliers.
All those elements led to Wednesday’s announcement, which Gentile said solidifies Spirit’s presence in Wichita “for decades to come.”
“We literally had bids from other countries, other states, significant amounts of value they were willing to pay to attract those jobs, that growth,” Gentile said. “I’m pleased to say Kansas, Sedgwick County and Wichita have stepped up.”
The new building Spirit will lease from the city and county for the next 20 years will be “hundreds of thousands of square feet,” Gentile said, adding an exact size has not yet been determined.
He said construction on it will begin in 2018.
The new building probably won’t be for any one type of work or production line.
“There’s multiple types of activities that we’re looking at,” he said. “Production and warehousing, assembly and machining. Those are the primary types of activities. We have a lot of investment projects on the drawing board, and so we’re very eager to get started.”
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer called it one of the most important announcements in Kansas in the past several years.
“This has a huge impact on Wichita,” Colyer said. “There will be thousands more jobs that spinoff as suppliers, in homes, in businesses across our region.”
Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell added the city has “historically seen a three-to-one multiplier when we talk about jobs of this nature coming into our community.”
In other words, one new Spirit job could create three other jobs in the city.
“Those three-to-one jobs is going to expand our housing market, our retail market, our restaurants,” he said. “More quality of life opportunities.”