Category Archives: Business

E-mail another sign that ‘Kansas Chamber’ means ‘Koch’

capitoldomeRep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, hasn’t elaborated on last week’s e-mail to supporters blaming an angry exchange with Koch Industries lobbyists for his failure to be among the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s endorsements. The e-mail suggests he was punished for asking questions about the proposed repeal of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Whatever happened – and Kansas Chamber CEO Mike O’Neal characterized Schwab’s link to the Koch run-in as “without merit” – Schwab had a point in questioning why think tanks but no businesses were testifying in favor of an RPS repeal and in suggesting Koch should advocate for repeal publicly. If nothing else, as Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, told the Topeka Capital-Journal, “It just lifts the covers off the Wizard of Oz so we know the Koch family is pulling the strings in the Kansas Chamber.”

Proud milestone for Wichita’s 737 workforce

Spirit737sendoffCongratulations to Spirit AeroSystems, whose festive send-off of the 5,000th Boeing Next-Generation 737 fuselage on Wednesday stood out as a proud moment in an otherwise unsettling week for aviation in Wichita. The murkiness of the future was underscored by the layoff notices at Bombardier Learjet and the raging rumors about Spirit’s plans for its parts fabrication and non-Boeing assembly work. But it was great to pause and celebrate the contributions of Spirit’s workforce and Wichita to the astonishingly enduring success of the 737.

Welcome to the skies, Learjet 85

learjet85aCongratulations to all those in Wichita and worldwide whose skill and hard work readied Bombardier Aerospace’s Learjet 85 for takeoff Wednesday from Mid-Continent Airport. It took 6 1/2 years for the midsize business jet to go from announcement to first flight, during a period that included a brutal recession. But the successful test further affirms that Wichita’s status as Air Capital of the World is a thing of the future, not just the past. Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement also offering congratulations: “Many thanks to the Learjet 85 team for its hard work in accomplishing this significant milestone in the program and Bombardier for its continued investment in Wichita.”

Union shouldn’t have been surprised by VW vote

vwplant“The United Auto Workers’ failed invasion of the South has all the earmarks of the old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy mixed with more than a touch of anti-unionism inherent in the region’s distrust of collective bargaining led by outsiders,” columnist Dan K. Thomasson wrote. He said that union officials shouldn’t have been surprised that hourly workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted against joining the union.

Ng brothers, toy loom are remarkable successes

rainbowloomCongratulations to Wichitans Choon and Yeow Ng on their Rainbow Loom being named “Toy of the Year” by the Toy Industry Association. The creation and development of the loom, which can make bracelets and other decorative items out of rubber bands, is a remarkable success story. The brothers came to Wichita from Malaysia in 1991 and worked as janitors to help pay their way through Wichita State University. After many setbacks and rejections, they were finally able to get their toy in major stores, and sales went through the roof: $55 million in retail sales in the past year.

Fast Internet can help attract capital, talent

computerwomanBefore the Legislature holds another hearing on a bill to outlaw Kansas cities and counties from supplying Internet service, it should consider what’s happening in Chattanooga, Tenn. That city provides a low-cost, ultrahigh-speed fiber-optic connection that is 50 times the average speed for homes in the rest of the country, the New York Times reported. In addition to the quality-of-life benefits for its citizens – it takes 33 seconds to download a two-hour high-definition movie, compared with 25 minutes for those with an average high-speed broadband connection – Chattanooga is successfully using its Internet service to attract computer programmers, entrepreneurs and investors. Slow Internet service is also creating competitive disadvantages between the United States and other countries. Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford, author of the book “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the Gilded Age,” noted that some countries have Internet service that is “100 times faster than the very fastest connection available in the United States and for a 17th of the price.”

Long, slow climb for aviation industry

073010learjetThe difficult news for Wichita and its aviation workers continues, as Bombardier announced Tuesday that it was cutting 350 more jobs at its Learjet plant. The company announced furloughs earlier this month and laid off 200 workers in December. Though the nation’s overall economy is improving, and there are forecasts for strong future growth in plane orders, the aviation industry is still struggling to pull out of the Great Recession. Total employment at Wichita’s five largest aviation manufacturers is down more than 11,000 employees, or about 31 percent, from the end of 2008.

Koch-linked network raised $407 million last election

kochs“The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors,” the Washington Post reported. Tax filings show that the network backed by the Kochs and other donors raised at least $407 million during the 2012 campaign. “A labyrinth of tax-exempt groups and limited-liability companies helps mask the sources of the money,” the Post reported, but more than half of the money was funneled through the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, an organization whose board includes current and former Koch Industries officials.

So they said

jenkins,lynn“Keep in mind they don’t have to vote for things – they’re in the minority.” – Rep. Lynn Jenkins (in photo), R-Topeka, choosing not to fault Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts for voting against the budget deal

“If she starts just making stuff up, let me know.” – Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, jokingly questioning the legitimacy of the sign-language interpreter at the inaugural meeting of the Congressional Deaf Caucus

“Re-elect No One” – bumper sticker being sold by an Overland Park businessman

“All the attention on the Koch brothers’ politics … obscures the story of how their sprawling conglomerate has become one of the most important companies in America. If Koch Industries were eligible, its $115 billion in revenues would be enough for it to rank No. 17 on the Fortune 500, with sales larger than those of Google, Goldman Sachs, and Kraft Foods combined.” – writer Christopher Leonard, in his Fortune magazine article headlined “The new Koch”

Large majority supports raising minimum wage

A new Gallup survey found that 76 percent of Americans would support a law to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 a hour (currently $7.25). Even 58 percent of Republicans backed the increase. A large majority (69 percent) also support the $9 rate along with future automatic increases tied to inflation, though only 43 percent of Republicans supported automatic increases. The minimum wage’s real value has declined by 33 percent since 1968, Gallup reported.

End economic-development ‘border war’

It’s good that Missouri and Kansas officials are getting serious about ending the economic-development “border war” in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (in photo) called this week for a permanent moratorium on using tax incentives to lure Kansas City companies across the state line, noting that the incentives costs taxpayers but results in no net gain to the local economy. Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George has been spearheading similar effort in Kansas to curb the incentives. Getting state lawmakers from outside the Kansas City area to agree to a cease fire may be the biggest challenge.

Koch Industries distancing itself from shutdown

Koch Industries is distancing itself from the push to shut down the federal government over the Affordable Care Act. “Koch has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare nor have we lobbied on legislative provisions defunding Obamacare,” Philip Ellender, the company’s president of government and public affairs, wrote in a letter to senators this week. But Charles and David Koch are major financial backers of Freedom Partners, which has funded other groups that pushed GOP lawmakers to link the funding of government to defunding Obamacare. Other Koch-backed groups have been key supporters of tea party lawmakers who championed the shutdown, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Wichita should build Textron AirLand’s Scorpion long term

Congratulations to those at Cessna Aircraft involved in the secretive development since early 2012 of Textron AirLand’s Scorpion, a light jet for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and attack. The prototype was unveiled in Maryland on Monday by parent company Textron, as Cessna president and CEO Scott Ernest revealed the project locally in a speech to the Rotary Club of Wichita. Testing and early production will be done in Wichita for the all-composite jet, which borrows the technology of the Citation business jets. Now, as Textron seeks customers, the state and local governments and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition need to do everything they can to keep Scorpion production in Wichita long term. Textron spokesman Dave Sylvestre said: “There isn’t an aircraft like it.” And there isn’t an aviation-manufacturing workforce better suited to build it than Wichita’s.

Welcome back, ‘St. Joe’

While The Eagle and other media have gamely tried to keep up with a series of name changes over the past 18 years, many people have never stopped referring to the Via Christi Hospital north of downtown as “St. Francis” and the one on East Harry as “St. Joseph” or “St. Joe.” Praise is due the current leaders at Via Christi Health for accepting that branding, as well as the nonprofit company’s proud roots and ties to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita. Last week CEO Jeff Korsmo (in photo) announced that Via Christi Health had officially settled on the name Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph, as well as the names Via Christi Hospital St. Francis and Via Christi Hospital St. Teresa for the other hospital campuses.

75 percent obedience fell short for Kansas Chamber

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has been vague about what somebody has to do to make, and not make, its annual “pro-jobs legislators” list. Some of those lawmakers left off the 2013 list are viewed by their local chambers of commerce as very supportive of job growth, according to the Hutchinson News. A statement by chamber president Mike O’Neal, a former House speaker, said a legislator must have voted “at least 80 percent of the time to support a wide range of business issues and ensure the state’s economic health.” The experience of the unlisted Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, suggests that 80 percent mark is no bluff. Hineman said he voted for six of the eight bills endorsed by chamber e-mails to lawmakers.

Historic order for Beechcraft is well-timed

Congratulations to Beechcraft Corp. for landing the biggest order for propeller aircraft in the history of general aviation. The $1.4 billion order from new company Wheels Up for up to 105 King Air 350i aircraft  includes maintenance, and should bolster hiring and help secure Beechcraft’s future into 2015. That’s a welcome development for Beechcraft, especially coming just six months after it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And what’s good for Beechcraft is good for Wichita, just as it has been for 81 years.

Fast food might be slow today in some cities

Some fast-food workers in seven cities, including Kansas City, are walking off the job today to protest low wages. The workers want to get paid $15 per hour, but industry officials say that the restaurants don’t have a high enough profit margin to afford that. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is getting grief for providing budgeting advice to its workers that included them working two jobs to get by (and assumed they needed to spend only $20 a month on health insurance).

Chamber’s ‘pro-jobs’ lawmakers favored higher-education cuts

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s recently released “2013 Pro-Jobs Legislator list” was Republican-only, singling out 24 senators and 71 representatives for their support for “sound business policy that strengthens our state’s economy and attracts jobs.” Of course, many lawmakers who supported the cuts to higher-education funding made the list – including that effort’s ringleaders, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, and Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover. The applauded lawmakers also favored the $2 million cut in state funding for the National Center for Aviation Training, which is crucial to Wichita remaining the Air Capital of the World. Many Kansans would be hard-pressed to see how it benefits the state’s economy and business environment to harm state universities and drive tuition rates higher. As Daniel Hurley of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities recently asked: “What employer would want to move to or expand in a state where the Legislature makes it clear that college access and building a skilled workforce is not a priority?”

Governor among Kansas’ aviation salesmen

Good for Gov. Sam Brownback and Commerce Secretary Pat George for planning to join the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and businesses such as Beechcraft Corp., Bombardier Aerospace and Spirit AeroSystems at the Paris Air Show this week. With $2.07 billion in exports last year and more than 30,000 workers, Kansas’ aerospace industry remains a global heavyweight. But the fight to defend and build market share is fierce. For example, Wichita’s three business jetmakers now build 38 percent of all corporate jets, down from 70 percent less than a decade ago. As Brownback told The Eagle’s Molly McMillin this month, it’s time to promote Kansas’ aviation industry to the world and drum up new business. “We have to go sell that,” he said. He’s right to do so personally.

Kansas Chamber video showcases close political ties

A promotional video for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce includes endorsements by top political leaders in the state. “I don’t know where we would be without the chamber,” Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo) says in the video. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, notes that the chamber “was involved in the elections for both House and Senate members” and that it “helped change the environment in the Capitol.” The chamber’s political action committee spent more than $1 million during the 2012 legislative election, much of it directed at defeating moderate Republicans. One of those purged lawmakers, former Sen. Ruth Teichman of Stafford, wondered if the chamber is now trying to convince Kansas that “getting rid of us” was a good thing, the Hutchinson News reported. Also of note in the video is Neeli Bendapudi, the dean of the University of Kansas School of Business. She says that “the Kansas Chamber and the University of Kansas are united for business.” When contacted by the Hutchinson News, Bendapudi said she did not intend to speak for the entire university. “I honestly did not think it through,” she said.

Welcome to Wichita

Some top U.S., Mexican and Canadian trade officials are in Wichita for the 37th-annual World Trade Week. Thursday’s conference, organized by the World Trade Council of Wichita, focuses on the North American Free Trade Agreement, the largest free-trade agreement in the world. Mexico and Canada are also the top two export markets for Kansas. Panel discussions include legal and trade regulations, tax policies, transportation and trade strategies. The conference is a good opportunity to network with trade officials and companies.

Gray lashes out at 23-year-old ADA

Wichita City Council member Paul Gray used an agenda item on swimming pool improvements at last week’s meeting to blast the Americans With Disabilities Act. Gray, a contractor who works in commercial construction, said he appreciated the sensitivity of such issues and has friends and relatives with disabilities, but that making facilities ADA-compliant can add $15,000-$20,000 to a $80,000 project and prove too much for mom-and-pop businesses. “Some little bureaucrat sits in a room and draws a picture and says, ‘This is the rules everybody has to follow,’ but they far exceed the requirements of people that are handicapped,” Gray said. “We treat the world as if everybody is blind and in a wheelchair, and that is not the circumstance. We are driving our economy into the ground with stuff like this.” Gray voted for the item, as did reluctant fellow council member Pete Meitzner. Hearing Gray’s rant about the 23-year-old ADA, it was hard to believe he was talking about what then-Sen. Bob Dole called “fair and balanced legislation that carefully blends the rights of people with disabilities … with the legitimate needs of the American business community.”

From Wichita Falls to Wichita

Congratulations to Tim Chase on his new job as president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Chase comes to Wichita after 12 years as president of the Wichita Falls (Texas) Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and with an impressive range of experience in economic development. It’s been nearly two years since the last permanent GWEDC president left – too long, especially amid such a deep downturn. Expectations are high for Chase’s ability to coordinate our community’s efforts to attract and retain businesses and to market itself not only as a hub for aviation manufacturing, research and training but as a fertile place for high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

Kansas chamber to stay out of judicial selection

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, newly led by former House Speaker Mike O’Neal, has an aggressive legislative agenda aimed at phasing out all individual and corporate income taxes and pushing for changes related to state employees’ pensions and unions’ political influence. But both Kent Eckles, the chamber’s vice president for governmental affairs, and Eric Stafford, the chamber’s senior legislative affairs director, told Associated Press that the chamber will stay out of the debate about changing how appellate judges are chosen. O’Neal has said the Kansas Supreme Court stepped over the line in requiring the Legislature to increase school funding. But he once responded to a proposed constitutional amendment to change how Supreme Court justices were chosen by asking: “What’s wrong with what we’ve got now?”

Thomas to be keynote speaker for Kansas chamber

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce recently announced that the keynote speaker for its 2013 annual dinner will be syndicated columnist and author Cal Thomas, whose commentaries have appeared in The Eagle since 1989. The dinner will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, with Neeli Bendapudi, dean of the University of Kansas School of Business, as master of ceremonies. “For years I have admired Cal Thomas’ thoughtful and challenging literary contributions to American political dialogue,” said Kansas chamber president Mike O’Neal. “We’re excited to bring such a leader to Kansas during the opening weeks of the 2013 legislative session.” For more information, go to www.kansaschamber.org.