Tentative Agreement Would Keep Most HBC Jobs in Wichita

A The Wichita Eagle is reporting that the state of Kansas has agreed to financial incentives that would keep "the vast majority" of Hawker Beechcraft Corp. (HBC) jobs in Wichita. The deal is contingent on the company reaching an agreement with its employees' union.

Earlier reports indicated HBC was seriously considering moving, along with 6,000 manufacturing jobs, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That state had offered some $400 million in financial incentives for the company to relocate there. Ever since Walter Beech set up shop in a hangar in Wichita as Travel Air Corp., his company has called Kansas home. With the ascendancy of Cessna, then Learjet and others, Wichita has long been known as the center of the general aviation universe. Now, with the industry reeling from the recession, Louisiana had expressed interest in hosting HBC.

Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson met Tuesday with HBC management and union officials to explore a counteroffer. A union contract vote scheduled for today had been cancelled pending further results from talks with both states. With the Kansas incentive deal contingent on a labor agreement, there is additional incentive to find common ground. HBC head Bill Boisture said in July that the company was considering relocating, and Louisiana was one of the options mentioned at that time. He said in July, "The market for our products has decreased dramatically over the last 18 months. Our view is that this is not a momentary decrease, and we believe strongly it's necessary to adjust the cost structure of the company to be able to be profitable in a small market."

On Saturday, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer told the newspaper that Kansas doesn't have the incentive packages some other states have, but Kansas has something Louisiana doesn't — a skilled workforce. "They can't produce as good of a product as we can," he said. Meanwhile, 37-year Beechcraft employee Robert Robinson organized a prayer vigil on Saturday night, asking for Divine intervention to save workers' jobs. He said, "We're trusting in God."