Larry Lawson

President & CEO
Spirit Aerosystems


What makes Wichita a great place to live?

Its people, hands down. I’ve lived all across the U.S. and traveled the world in my 30-plus years in aerospace, and I have never experienced the generosity and friendliness that I’ve seen here in Wichita. When I arrived at Spirit almost 3 years ago, I was amazed at how our employees were so involved in the community, donating thousands of volunteer hours and millions of dollars to charities across south central Kansas. I’ve learned that our employees are indicative of the larger community. Wichita has a giving spirit and the entire community benefits. I saw that firsthand last year as I chaired the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure race in Wichita. Hundreds of riders participated and we raised more than $400,000. That speaks volumes about this community.

 What is the biggest challenge or opportunity for our community in 2016?

I think Wichita’s biggest challenge is the same one facing many other communities across the country: workforce readiness and availability. It’s also an issue that we are very focused on at Spirit. How does our community attract and retain a pool of skilled employees to meet the needs of business? Workforce development is economic development in many ways. Businesses aren’t going to locate in Wichita or won’t be able to expand here if they can’t find people to fill the jobs. And it’s not just about quantity. It’s having the right people with the right skills at the right time.

What would you tell a person who is considering moving to Wichita?

Spirit has aggressively recruited numerous executives to Wichita, so I have had this conversation many times over the past three years. My first priority is to encourage recruits to form their own opinion of Wichita after visiting in person – putting aside any preconceived notions. There are obvious selling points, such as the low cost of living and the shortest commute times I’ve ever experienced. Some of our community’s other great assets – its generosity, friendliness, business climate – become even more evident with time. Apparently our sales pitch is working because we’ve had talent relocate from major metropolitan areas all across the country.

Who could be better served by our community?

I think Wichita and our country in general undervalue our veterans, active military and their families. Wichita leaders have certainly embraced McConnell Air Force base but I still don’t think most residents fully comprehend what a tremendous economic impact the base has on this community, on our schools, and in our daily lives. I spent much of my career interacting with military customers, and they are remarkable men and women, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our freedom. With today’s ever-changing security environment, all of us should do more to actively appreciate our servicemen and women because they do a fantastic job of serving us.

What is Wichita’s best kept secret?

Wichita, as a whole, is a secret and one that should be shared. This is a wonderful community, with many highly technical, skilled jobs, and hardworking people who also treasure time with family. Recent research confirms what many here already knew: Wichita has an image problem, both outside our community and within our own ranks. If there’s one thing I could change about this city, it’s how we view ourselves. Of course Wichita has many opportunities for improvement, just like any other city in America. But we shouldn’t sell ourselves short. Take it from a relative newcomer, Wichita is a special place with tremendous people. Let the secret out.

Who is someone locally that has influenced you?

WSU President John Bardo. I met Dr. Bardo shortly after arriving in Wichita and was immediately impressed with his vision and passion for innovation and technology. I serve on the President’s Leadership Council at WSU, which has given me more insight into the strategy and direction for the university. WSU’s success is important to Spirit’s success because it is a key educator of our current and future workforce. Dr. Bardo is transforming WSU, which, in turn, will help transform our community. I’m very optimistic about the possibilities that are created when innovative ideas and creative problem-solving have space to flourish.

How long have you lived in Wichita?

3 Years

What is the first thing you would show a visitor to Wichita?

I’d give them a tour of the Spirit plant. Many of my visitors are recruits and when they are able to see firsthand the size and scale of our operations, along with the capability of our employees, they get excited about working here.