A team of Wichita business leaders and politicians are heading to China. During the 12 day trip, they'll visit several cities and plan to meet with the company seeking to buy Hawker Beechcraft.
Friday morning several of Wichita's leaders, including Mayor Carl Brewer and Vice Mayor Janet Miller, leave on a trade mission to China. But at a time when so many Kansans are struggling to make ends meet some wonder how Wichita benefits from the trip and who is footing the bill.
In an effort to keep costs down organizers have combined three different trips into one. The first leg will be an economic trade mission to Beijing and nearby cities. The second is an obligatory visit to Wichita's Sister City, Kaifeng. And the third and final stop is in the city of Wuxi which has an eco-partnership with Wichita. The cost of the trip is also being split three ways.
In Mayor Carl Brewer's view the first leg of the trip to China may be most important. He's meeting with Superior Aviation Beijing, which has signed an initial agreement to buy Hawker Beechcraft, and he has some questions for the company's executives.
"Do you plan on leaving those jobs here in the City of Wichita?," asked Brewer. "What's your plan?"
The company CEO will be at the meeting. Brewer credits the group Kansas Global Trade Services for their presence.
"That never would have happened if we had not had, you know, had not been working with Karyn Page and her organization and had a relationship already in place there in that country," said Brewer.
Page agreed. "It really is just hard work. It's just building a relationship, one relationship at a time, one person at a time, one handshake, one extra e-mail."
Page and her group will also go on the trip thanks to a federal grant. Her goal is to develop trade opportunities for Kansas overseas. Besides the grant, other business men and women on the trip will pay their own way.
"The city's portion of it will be approximately $24,000," said Vice Mayor Janet Miller.
That taxpayer money will cover the cost of six city officials making the trip. A cheap price in Miller's opinion even if it only paid for the meeting with Superior Aviation Beijing.
"If we can do anything at all to retain Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita at this point," Miller said, "the expense of $24,000, even if all of that went to that purpose, in my opinion and others I think, that would be well worth it."
So do these trips really pay off? The Mayor says yes. Last year J.R. Custom Metals came back from a Sister City visit to Mexico with a $5 million business deal signed, sealed and delivered, and the possibility of others in the future. Those going this year are seeing signs of a payoff already.
"We are working on something and hopefully we will be able to make an announcement from china or shortly after our return," said Page.