City looks at marketing plan for buildings

JAMES BEATY | Staff photoCity of  McAlester Economic Development Director Kirk Ridenour, right, engages in a discussion with members of the city's Local Economic Advancement and Development Committee, including Justin Few, left.

The city of McAlester is looking at multiple ways to market three large buildings that are in the process of closing — the Spirit AeroSystems building and the two owned by National Oilwell Varco.

Both companies plan to shut down their McAlester operations by next year. Although the city of McAlester does not own the buildings, the city can let other companies know they are available, said McAlester Economic Development Director Kirk Ridenour.

Spirit AeroSystems recently announced plans to close its McAlester plant, while keeping the ones in Tulsa and Wichita, Kansas in operation. Spirit blamed the pending closure of its McAlester plant on grounding of the 737 Max and on reduced air travel due the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Airlines announced over the weekend the company plans to begin using the Boeing 737 Max for passenger flights near the end of 2020. The 737 Max was grounded around the world in March following two crashes with 364 fatalities.

Does the city's economic development director see any sign that Spirit AeroSystems might decide to keep the McAlester plant open now that it looks like the 737 Max could resume commercial flights around the end of the year?

"It doesn't look like it," Ridenour said Monday. "We've heard when the 737 Max is re-certified, production levels won't return to normal for two or three years."

Ridenour noted there's always the possibility that the reality could be different, that production of the 737 could resume more quickly that expected.

"I'm taking the news cautiously," Ridenour said. "I'm not going to be overly-optimistic, but it is good news.

"I don't know if it's the silver bullet we're hoping for," said Ridenour.

For the 737 Max to be commercially used as passenger planes again, the grounded planes will have to first be re-certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, which earlier this month released its proposed pilot training for the 737 Max.

Ridenour plans to continue as if the McAlester Spirit AeroSysytems plant and National Oilwell will close next year as previously announced.

"My plan is to continue marketing all three buildings right now," Ridenour said. He said marketing the buildings is a top concern and the city is in the midst of putting together marketing information regarding the three sites.

"In the short-term, that is our most pressing goal, to get these three buildings filled," Ridenour said.

Approximately 175 workers were employed at Spirit AeroSyetms at the time of the announcement, where work had fallen by 50% since the first of the year, according to company officials in a message to employees.

Approximately 90 individuals worked at National Oilwell Varco at the beginning of the year, with the number reduced to around 60 by the time of the closure announcement in late September, Ridenour said in a previous interview.

Ridenour noted that the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is moving forward with its drone-testing program.

The Choctaw Nation's program is on a site that extends from Pittsburg County into Atoka County. It's among only nine that have been approved for specialized commercial drone testing.

"The biggest barriers are flying at night and flying beyond the visual line of sight," Ridenour said, adding that those are two of the capabilities covered in the Choctaw testing program.

Ridenour said that as drone testing increases, manufacturing of drones could increase as well.

"Our desires are to see these companies that are testing, as they move into manufacturing drones, there's probably enough growth potential to get a piece of it," he said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcaletesternews.com

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