To rearm the United States for Armageddon – or the display of the brute nuclear force necessary to avert it – it turns out that the parking problem must be solved.
But America is in a hurry to replace old nuclear warheads before they turn into waste, or something radioactively worse. So he leans on the shuttles to bring the workers he can’t get enough of to this plant on the south end of Kansas City.
The Kansas City National Security Campus operates 24/7, producing 80% of non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons. He needs to run faster.
“We’re at about 6,500 people today and our intent is to continue to grow to about 7,000” by the end of September, said Eric Wollerman, president of federal manufacturing and technologies at Honeywell.
That’s nearly triple the number of people who worked here just a few years ago. It makes Honeywell one of the largest manufacturing employers in Missouri.
By comparison, Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant, one of the most productive auto plants in the country, employs about 7,800 people making F-150 pickups and Transit vans.
Manufacturing on campus is tiny by automotive industry standards. But a Ford F-150 needn’t deter a Russian nuclear attack. The components of nuclear warheads manufactured in Kansas City do.
“There’s a lot of sophisticated electronics, you know, timers, fuses, conventional explosives that help nuclear explosives go off,” says Eugene Gholz, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame. “Someone has to make it very precisely and very securely, so that other people don’t know about it, they can’t interrupt it. It’s super rated.
That work has been done in Kansas City since the Cold War. The problem is that most of the 3,750 ready-to-use nuclear bombs and warheads in the US arsenal are decades old. They weren’t designed to last that long. And Gholz says expired nuclear weapons are dangerous.
“If you have pieces soldered together on a circuit board, the solder moves over time. It has some liquid characteristics, so it shorts out and then you have to replace it,” Gholz said. “There are just a million little things.”
Then the government launched a massive 10-year effort of more than $600 billion to refurbish, upgrade or replace most of the nuclear arsenal. That includes a new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider that will likely be stationed an hour east of Kansas City at Whiteman Air Force Base. Includes new submarines and new ICBMs. It requires new cylinder heads and the modernization or refurbishment of the old ones. That mandate is fueling the massive growth of the Kansas City nuclear components plant.
The plant already funnels a lot of Washington’s money into the regional economy. Payroll is just under $550 million and growing. Buy from 460 companies in Kansas and Missouri.
But expanding campus security is colliding with the tightest job market in 50 years. Wollerman says he’s looking to fill 600 open positions. Hiring is the main challenge of him.
“We are in a growth environment and we need to sustain the mission,” Wollerman said. “You can’t run it without your people.”
The facility has an established pipeline of talent. It draws from places like a windowless workshop on Troost Avenue, the Kansas City Engineering Zone, where teams from four urban high schools design and build robots to compete in regional competitions. Martha McCabe, who heads the KC STEM Alliance, says the robotic classroom is equipped almost entirely with machinery donated by the Kansas City National Security Campus.
“All this equipment,” he said, gesturing to the shop, “you have drill presses, you have lathes, you have a horizontal bandsaw, a sheet metal press.”
McCabe says KCNSC is one of his largest donors, with over $50,000 a year. He also pays his he engineers to mentor these urban high school students. And he says the plant offers jobs with starting wages as high as $35 an hour, for people with higher educations. And room for advancement.
“One hundred percent a path out of poverty,” McCabe said. “And not just for the individual, but for his family as well.”
The job requires careful attention to detail, US citizenship, and a clean criminal record sufficient to obtain a US Department of Energy security clearance. With that in hand, the local kids can make a middle-class living making parts for some of the deadliest weapons on Earth.