By John T. Bennett - 01/04/12 05:05 PM EST
Boeing will shutter its Wichita, Kan., facility after vowing for years to assemble new U.S. Air Force tanker planes there, the defense and aerospace giant announced Wednesday.
The firm had long said it would erect the flying gas stations at the Kansas facility, work that would have delivered around 7,500 new jobs to the area.
The decision — a major blow to the Kansas economy — will almost certainly draw the ire of Kansas’s congressional delegation.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said in a statement that he had secured assurances from top Boeing executives that if the firm won the Air Force tender, the assembly work would be done in Kansas.
“Boeing's chairman sat in my office 22 months ago during that battle and promised me ... that if we won the fight to get the tanker contract back, Boeing would stay in Wichita," Roberts said. "The chairman again promised the entire delegation the work would remain in Wichita just last February, when the tanker contract was settled in Boeing's favor.
“Today's announcement by Boeing’s leadership is hugely disappointing to me, but more importantly to the thousands of workers whose livelihoods are affected by this decision," Roberts said. "No lawmaker can compel a private company’s economic decisions, although [Gov. Sam Brownback (R)] and the congressional delegation together have made the best arguments possible for Wichita."
The move of the tanker work is a big win for Washington state’s congressional delegation. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was one of the most vocal pro-Boeing lawmakers during the tanker competition, which the Chicago-based firm won over the North American unit of its European rival EADS.
Boeing will assemble 179 KC-45 aerial tankers in Washington state.
During a midday press briefing from Wichita, Mark Bass, Boeing's vice president and general manager for maintenance, said company officials “do not take this decision lightly.”
The bottom line, he said, is that the Wichita facility is primarily used for aircraft maintenance and modification work, while the Air Force tanker would be production.
If the tanker production line was set up in Wichita, the other parts of the plant over time “would erode” because there are “few opportunities” coming to secure that kind of work, Bass said. He noted that labor costs in Kansas are more pricey than at Boeing’s other facilities.
Bass and other company said they had no idea they would close the Kansas facility when the Air Force awarded that $35 billion tender.
“Boeing is committed to Kansas,” Bass said, pointing to the vast amount the company spends there annually to pay nearly 500 suppliers.
The Wichita facility has been the home of the company’s global transport and executive systems division. It also is the home of Boeing’s B-52 bomber and 767 tanker aircraft programs, as well as other work.
The Wichita and Kansas economies stand to lose over 9,500 jobs by the end of 2013.
This story was last updated at 3:03 p.m.