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Brownback reflects on Kansas trade with Europe

7/19/2012

TOPEKA (AP) -- Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that he was upbeat about the prospects for increased activity between European trade partners and Kansas, especially more jobs in aviation and energy.

Brownback said in an interview with The Associated Press that orders for new commercial aircraft announced at the Farnborough International Airshow in England would be good for Kansas' aviation business. He said suppliers that make components for those commercial orders could see more than $5 billion in business.

The Republican governor attended the air show with other Kansas officials and made calls to business leaders in Germany. Brownback said concerns about the effects of Europe's growing economic crisis couldn't be ignored, but there is potential for growth.

Brownback said officials with the Boeing Co. believe the value of new commercial aircraft orders for Kansas suppliers will exceed losses caused by Boeing's decision to close its defense facilities in Wichita.

"European headwinds are real, but not in aviation," Brownback said.

Three European nations rank in the top 10 export destinations for Kansas' goods according to the most recent Department of Commerce data. The United Kingdom led the way in 2011 with $411.9 million in sales, the state's seventh largest partner, followed by Ireland at $401.8 million at eighth and Germany at $401.2 million at ninth.

Canada was the top Kansas export destination with $2.5 billion in sales.

Commerce Secretary Pat George accompanied Brownback on the trip to Europe and said the goal was to promote private-sector job growth through existing Kansas strengths.

"We are optimistic our discussions will lead to future economic development opportunities," George said.

Brownback said Kansas has been encouraging aviation firms to consider the state when expanding their plant and supply chains, such as those required for the new Airbus plant in Alabama.

"We keep pushing this model in rural areas," the governor said, adding that the cost structure will be lower for firms and a viable alternative to developing nations.

"So far it is working. We're pushing that model hard instead of outsourcing that to Mexico," the governor said. "I'm bullish on Kansas and Wichita continuing being the air capital of the world. The mix is just going to be different."

He said in addition to the historic cluster in Wichita, aviation firms have expanded new operations in Chanute and Fredonia, while a supplier in Cottonwood Falls continues to grow.

Adding to the push are changes in Kansas tax laws that will lower the income tax rate effective Jan. 1, as well as programs that will exempt income taxes for five years for individuals moving to the state and settling in designated rural counties.

Brownback said the effects of new manufacturing jobs in aviation, as well as growth in energy development in southern Kansas with oil and gas drilling in the Mississippi Limestone formation will begin showing up sooner than later as firms increase hiring. He said the state's skilled workforce, cost structure and research facilities continue to be attractive selling points.

"I think you are starting to see the impact now. You have other headwinds that are out there, but our manufacturing numbers are up job-wise as a state," he said.