Brownback calls for economic air offensive

TOPEKA — After helping to land the $35 billion contract for Boeing Co. to build the next generation of tankers for the Air Force, Gov. Sam Brownback said today that he’s focusing on making sure Kansas gets its fair share of the jobs.

As a Senator before taking over as governor in January, Brownback — along with Sen. Pat Roberts and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, were among the strongest congressional advocates for the Air Force to reverse an earlier decision to give the tanker work to the European aviation consortium Airbus Industrie.

In a news conference at his Capitol office, Brownback said he’s delighted that Boeing, which has strong Wichita ties, eventually won what he calls “the largest military contract in global history.”

Now, he said he thinks “it’s time we get out of a defensive position on the aviation sector and saying, well, this state, this country’s trying to raid this job and us get in an offensive position.”

Brownback said as governor, he is turning his attention to a different role than he had as a senator, trying to ensure that jobs created by the tanker contract come to Kansas.

“Lord knows this state leaned in hard to get that tanker contract to stay in the United States and not go to Airbus,” Brownback said. “I want them to know we think we ought to be doing our fair share of the work here.”

Bownback said the competition now swings from between corporations to states who are seeking as much of the tanker work as they can get.

“They (Boeing) have got different options and they’ve got facilities in a lot of different states,” Brownback said. “The governor as the chief spokesperson for the state can go to a series of companies to recruit their location in Kansas, or to recruit Boeing to locate more of their work on the tanker.”

On Monday, Brownback held an “aviation summit” in Wichita — the first of several economic summits he has planned — meeting with industry leaders to gather ideas on how to increase the state’s share of the aviation business.

Most of the ideas centered on lowering or eliminating taxes for planemakers, relaxing government regulations and providing more state funding for technical and engineering training — all longtime staples of Brownback’s economic road map.

But Brownback said one thing he learned was that Boeing jobs are not the only ones that the state needs to be fighting for now that the tanker contract battle is won.

“The big aviation companies all have a huge number of subcontractors underneath them supplying parts into them. Do we have our fair share of that business?” he said. “This is something that came up at the aviation summit that I hadn’t focused on adequately previously, the number of jobs that’s in that subassembly piece and what are we doing to recruit those pieces of it here, whether it’s in Wichita or goes to Cottonwood Falls, or Fredonia or somewhere else in the state.”

He also said the state should try for more jobs in aircraft maintenance.

“Planes, they need to be serviced and we should be doing that servicing here,” Brownback said. “Those are high-skill, high-tech jobs.”