EVERETT, Wash. Riveters once ruled here, as Boeing airplanes rolled off the line and into the sky from giant factories where rivers of aluminum were pounded into form and function. And Boeing, founded in nearby Seattle in 1916 in the era of the Sopwith Camel, returned the favor, building up the Puget Sound region as a blue-collar powerhouse from the 1940s through the commercial jet age. Almost half of the companys 171,000 employees still call Washington state home.
But the next chapter of that old relationship has now become a cliffhanger of politics, economics and perhaps, some suspect, brinkmanship and bluff. Where the company will assemble its next generation of commercial airplane, the 777X which only a few months ago looked locked-down certain to be in Everett, Wash. is now up for grabs, with a national scramble of states and cities, including North Carolina, bidding for Boeings hand with tax breaks, incentives and promises of labor congeniality.
With a deadline looming this week for best offers, and a decision promised by the company early next year, tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wages and taxes are at stake, along with the identity of a region that long ago claimed the jet age as its symbol, in Seattles revolving Space Needle.
It would be the death spiral of aerospace in Washington state, said Ray Stephanson, Everetts mayor, contemplating the possibility of Boeings building the 777X in some other state. As he spoke in his office, a scale model 777-300, angled as though in takeoff, sat by a window. Theres a tremendous amount of anxiety.
Boeing had conditions from the beginning on the 777X: big incentives from the state of Washington and big givebacks by its largest union here, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The state came through, delivering in a special session of the Legislature a package worth $8.7billion through 2040. But union members balked, voting down last month a contract extension that would have frozen their pensions. So Boeing began sending out requests for proposals to more than a dozen states and cities around the nation.
State legislators in Missouri last week went into special session and delivered a $1.7billion Christmas gift should Boeing come their way. Economic development officials in North Carolina, Alabama, Kansas and Utah Boeing has declined to provide a full list of suitors were putting together bids, too, and bragging about their respective environments of can-do optimism.
Its our job to sell them our area and tell a story, said Thomas Battle, the mayor of Huntsville, Ala., one of the places Boeing contacted as a possible new partner. Theyve asked for a good community, one that works with you, one that has a high level of education, that supports their workforce and makes it easy for them to recruit.
But Washington state officials said they believe their region has aces in the hole that will ultimately prevail: experience in producing airplanes under deadline conditions and closer proximity than most of the competition to Asian suppliers and customers, an important consideration for ocean-borne freight shipment.
Boeing has already moved thousands of jobs away from Washington in recent years and has said that diversification is a long-term corporate strategy. Its new 787 Dreamliners are built in South Carolina, and in 2001 the company moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago.
Puget Sound is probably going to face a reality not unlike what Michigan faces: You guys have to come in at a reasonable price, because we can move our stuff to other places, said David Gillen, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of British Columbia.
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