Over the Rainbow

Cessna and its workforce also were hit hard by the recession. Prior to 2008, the Textron subsidiary employed some 13,000 people at its Wichita facility. Today, the facility has fewer than 5,000 workers. Learjet, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013, suffered the lightest losses of the city’s big three business-jet manufacturers, though it still laid off more than a fifth of its employees. It let go fewer than 700 of the nearly 3,000 workers at its Wichita plant and is in the process of expanding the size of that facility by more than 20 percent. The expansion is part of a $55 million investment by Bombardier, the state of Kansas, and the city of Wichita. It includes the construction of more ramp space; new flight, paint, and assembly hangars; flight-test and delivery centers; and additional parking—for the workers Learjet intends to hire over the next decade.

Alan Young, Learjet’s vice president of operations, attributes the company’s resiliency to the diversity of its workload in Wichita. Here, Learjets are developed (development projects continued throughout the recession) and produced, and all Bombardier aircraft are flight-tested. "Because of the spread we’ve got here, we were able to contain [the impact of the recession] quite well," Young says. "And most of the people we laid off, we’ve now gotten back."

While Hawker Beechcraft is working out a plan for its future, Cessna and Learjet have indeed begun hiring back some of their employees. And along with Gulfstream in Savannah, Ga. (see "G-Force" below), they are developing and delivering new, innovative aircraft that are reinvigorating customer demand.

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