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Boeing Announces Wichita Plant Closure, Moves Some Jobs To Puget Sound

Deborah Wang

The Puget Sound region will see a small number of new aerospace jobs in the wake of a plant closure in Kansas. Yesterday, Boeing announced it will close its giant defense facility in Wichita by the end of 2013. The move will eliminate more than 2,000 jobs. KUOW's Deborah Wang has the story.


The closure of the Wichita facility had been rumored for weeks, and Boeing finally made it official yesterday. The company called a mandatory meeting of all of its employees and bused them into a large hangar, where chairs were set up. Three Boeing executives made the announcement that the plant, which had been operating for more than 80 years, would be shutting down.

Brewer: "Ah, I think it can be best described as shock and awe."

Bob Brewer was in the audience. He is the Midwest director of SPEEA, the engineering union that represents more than 500 people at the facility.

Brewer: "I don't think there's many of us that thought a company that had been here since 1938 would ever see the doors closed. To have 2,100 people setting there seeing their careers come to an end at this facility was quite devastating this morning."

The Wichita facility is huge — it includes 97 buildings. It primarily does what the company calls modification work. That means it takes commercial airplanes, like the 747 and the 767, and converts them into government or military planes. Air refueling tankers are modified there, as is Air Force One. They also do aircraft maintenance.

But with recent defence cutbacks, the company says the giant plant is poised to lose work and is no longer cost effective to run.

The plant will close by the end of 2013. More than half the jobs there will be transferred to Boeing plants in Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Texas.

Wichita was supposed to be the center of future modification work on the new Air Force tanker, which will be built in Everett. The company says about 200 of those jobs will be moved to the Puget Sound region. It wouldn't say exactly where.

Scott Hamilton is an airline analyst with Leeham Company. He says that work strengthens Boeing's footprint in the region.

Hamilton: "In the context of Boeing's total employment here in Puget Sound, you are not talking about a great number of jobs, you are only talking about a fraction increase in the number of jobs. But obviously here in Puget Sound we will take what we can get."

Boeing had already promised the Machinists Union that it would bring the tanker modification work to the Puget Sound region if Wichita were to close.

At the same time, though, Boeing is moving other work out of the region. The company announced it will transfer about 100 local jobs to Oklahoma City. Those are mainly engineers who work on modifying commercial airplanes for government use.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

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