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Q&A: The candidates for governor on aerospace

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By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Boeing workers in Everett perform tests and other final assembly tasks on the 97th 777 in November. One of the challenges facing Washington officials ...

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Boeing workers in Everett perform tests and other final assembly tasks on the 97th 777 in November. One of the challenges facing Washington officials will be to keep work on an updated version of the jet, the 777X, in the state.

  • Jay Inslee

    Jay Inslee

  • Rob McKenna

    Rob McKenna

For the next governor, one of his most important relationships will be with the leaders of the Boeing Co.
It is one of the state's biggest employers and is hiring more workers every day. As Boeing prospers, so prospers an aerospace industry that is a bedrock of Washington's economy.
Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna, the two biggest political names battling to become the next governor, know they can't mess things up if elected. Maybe they can even make it better.
Exactly how would each approach and respond to the desires of the company, its workers and others throughout the industry? We sat down recently with each candidate to find out.
Inslee, 61, a Democrat, served in the U.S. House of Representatives until resigning last week to campaign for governor full time. Since 1999, he had represented the 1st congressional district, which includes south Snohomish County. Before that, he served one term as representative for the 4th District in Eastern Washington.
McKenna, 49, a Republican, is in his second term as state attorney general. Before that he served three terms on the Metropolitan King County Council.
We asked each candidate the same questions. Below are their edited responses.

Jay Inslee


Q: What is the greatest challenge facing the aerospace industry?
A:
Right now, skill development because a large portion of our machinists and engineers will be retiring over the next decade. The state has a huge challenge to make sure that our young folks have the ability to get this training. I've been very active making sure we have bolstered our skill set development and technical degrees at our technical colleges and our community colleges.
Q: What are the top three things the state can do to encourage aerospace companies to stay/expand here or to relocate here?
A:
The first two are aligned. One is the skill-set development of technical workers. We can do that mostly at technical colleges and in training programs. And we should be working in closer partnership with aerospace companies. I am the candidate that has experience in that.
Second, we need to increase our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates in four-year programs. We have to increase the slots available in engineering. We had about 500 or 600 students who wanted to go into engineering, but we didn't have slots at the University of Washington or Washington State this year. So number one and two are tied together.
The third in this constellation is working hand-in-glove, making sure we help existing aerospace companies expand and others relocate here. I will be a very hands-on governor, helping them with transportation needs, helping them with permitting needs so they can permit more rapidly -- consistent with our laws but more rapidly. That involves adapting a lean-manufacturing, constant-quality improvement process that I intend to bring to state government.
Q: What was the state's biggest mistake in terms of aerospace over the past decade?
A:
The state's biggest mistake? I don't like to look backwards. I like to look forward. Let's just relish our success in building a good working relationship between labor and management. That is the biggest success. That certainly was a challenge for us for several years. Now, we should have done and could have done more, obviously, on STEM graduates. We have more work to do on our skill set as well.
Q: Do you think the state caters too much to the Boeing Co.?
A:
I don't look at it in those terms. Look, we're in an international competition. Aerospace is the gem and the crown jewel of manufacturing in the United States and probably the world right now. It is probably the strongest manufacturing sector in the United States today, and rightfully so. We should guard it with great interest and dedication. So, I don't believe that.
Q: Prior to the Boeing Co.'s decision to expand to South Carolina, state lawmakers said they felt they had done everything Boeing asked of them. There seems to have been a lack of trust between them and Boeing leaders. What's your analysis of that relationship?
A:
You'd like to think when we created the package for the 787 that we could have got assurances for the second line (at the Everett factory), not just the first. It's painful to me to see those hundreds of millions of dollars of state benefit with the second line going to South Carolina. Could we have done better? I don't know. I wasn't in the room. Certainly, I think when this state does reach partnerships with private enterprise, whether it's Boeing or others, we ought to be good negotiators. We ought to be tough and resilient, making sure taxpayers are getting their bang for the buck.
Q: Are the industry's unions here a strength or a weakness?
A:
They can be a distinct strength in several ways. One is to be great spokespersons for skill development. Boeing is here because we have the best-skilled workforce in the world. They are a powerful force to help us make sure we increase the skill-set pipeline. They are a powerful voice in Olympia to be able to advocate for that. I saw those people up at Paine Field at a training program that I helped fund; those are future union members. They are going to be a powerful force to keep people coming up behind them. So I think that is a huge benefit.
Second, we all benefited from this step forward (Boeing's agreement to build the 737 MAX in Renton and a new Machinists contract) that took place with labor and management. That was one of the best things for the state of Washington since the world's fair 50 years ago. I don't think you can overstate the positive ramifications of that, not just for Boeing workers but for everyone, because everyone here in some fashion is tied to the Boeing family.
Q: Did you agree or disagree with the conclusions reached in the National Labor Relations Board complaint against the Boeing Co.?
A:
I am not an adjudicative officer. I am an elected official in Congress, so it wasn't for me to make those decisions. What I can say is that we all ought to be delighted that it is resolved in a way that is helping us move forward.
I did speak on the floor against the politicization of this issue. We took, I think, the responsible position. We should not allow the South Carolina senators to be braying and using political cudgels to try to silence an agency that is supposed to do its job. So when my friends, well not so much friends at the moment, the South Carolina senators, were up there yelling and pounding the table on this, our position was that they should just sort of be quiet and let this play out, which it did, to everyone's success.
Q: The governor created an aerospace office and hired a director to run it. That person will be part of the conversations with the cabinet. Do you agree with these steps?
A:
We proposed something like that in our jobs plan. I think it is important to have something very close to the governor so the governor has personal involvement in these emerging clusters of industry. Aerospace is not the only game in town. You have to do the same thing for clean energy, for biotechnology, for advanced agriculture. Our single most important resource for the state of Washington is innovation, so I think it's heading in the right direction.
Q: How will an Inslee administration be different than Gov. Chris Gregoire's regarding the aerospace industry?
A:
First off, I'm not running against any of the almost two dozen former governors. I will tell you that I am a hands-on leader and would have been very active trying to find a labor-management resolution earlier, because it is very important to the future economically for the state.
The person I am running against is Rob McKenna, and the salient question is what our differences are. I am the candidate who has experience in helping win the (Air Force aerial-refueling) tanker contract. My opponent is not. I am the candidate who has experience growing slots for developing machinists. My opponent is not. I am the candidate who has experience fighting the Europeans to make sure we continue to do domestic manufacturing. My opponent does not. I am the candidate with both the experience to help create jobs in aerospace and the vision on how to do that. That's something you can check out at jayinslee.com.

Rob McKenna


Q: What is the greatest challenge facing the state's aerospace industry?
A:
The availability of sufficient numbers of skilled workers and engineers. And the cost of employing those people in our state is a related significant challenge. We're one of the most expensive states in the country in which to be an employer.
Now, to understand why costs matter, consider what happened last year with single-aisle plane orders. Thirty percent of those orders went to Boeing, 70 percent went to Airbus for the A320neo. How did Airbus do this? Very aggressive pricing. And this is one of the reasons. Boeing is really feeling the pressure on costs. Boeing hopes the 737 MAX will help turn that around and their market share will grow again for new plane orders this year, next year and beyond. And it's important that they be successful, because single-aisle planes will account for two-thirds of new plane orders in the next 20 years.
Q: What are the top three things the state can do to encourage aerospace companies to stay/expand here or to relocate here?
A:
Number 1, help produce the trained workforce that Boeing and other aerospace companies need.
We have to expand programs and slots at the technical colleges. We're going to need to expand applied baccalaureate programs at the community colleges. And we have to expand engineering-related programs at the universities. We're going to need to rely more on our branch campuses, because the most expensive place to produce degrees is at the main campuses of the University of Washington and Washington State University. It is less expensive to produce a degree holder or a degree at the UW Bothell, UW Tacoma, and WSU Tri-Cities and so on.
Here's another problem. The public education system in our state isn't producing enough graduates who go to college, or who are prepared to succeed in college.
We need to look at ways to reduce costs for all employers, including aerospace. I've been out talking to hundreds of business owners around the state, and it's remarkable how consistent their message is. They complain about very high workers compensation costs, and they complain about very high unemployment taxes and about a heavy regulatory burden.
What can we do about workers comp? Well, look south to Oregon. Oregon opened up their system to competition over 12 years ago and they have a system that works much better for employees and employers. So we're one of only four states that monopolizes workers compensation insurance through state government. The other 46 states have figured out that competition is good, and we ought to move out of our isolated position.
Q: What was the state's biggest mistake in terms of aerospace over the past decade?
A:
Not taking Boeing seriously when they warned us that we were making it increasingly expensive to do business in our state. It was 20 years ago when (Boeing then-CEO) Frank Shrontz gave that famous speech to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and warned our state could become an "aerospace rust belt" if state leaders didn't address the high costs that were hampering our state's ability to attract and retain aerospace companies.
Shrontz warned that the Everett expansion would be the last aircraft manufacturing plant expansion or new plant in our state. He was so frustrated by how hard the state and the local governments made it to build the Everett plant and expand the Everett plant and he said it would be the last one they'd ever do and they've kept their word.
We have got to stay on top of our game. Until the South Carolina plant opened, 100 percent of all commercial airliners of 100 seats or more were assembled and built in Washington. Now it is 90 percent because of South Carolina. We could continue to see the erosion of our manufacturing position if we don't get our act together on this range of issues.
Q: Do you think the state caters too much to the Boeing Co.?
A:
No. I don't think we cater too much. It's very difficult to replace these jobs when we lose them. It's much cheaper to invest in keeping those jobs here. We're not only fortunate to have them, but this is one sector of manufacturing which is expanding.
Q: Prior to the Boeing Co.'s decision to expand to South Carolina, state lawmakers said they felt they had done everything Boeing asked of them. There seems to have been a lack of trust between them and Boeing leaders. What's your analysis of that relationship?
A:
I don't think the Legislature gave Boeing everything they wanted. This is not to say that you have to give everything to any company that asks for it, but I don't think the Legislature met Boeing even halfway. Certainly, the package that (then-Gov.) Gary Locke and the Legislature put together with some tax breaks helped keep Boeing here, but when you look at the value of aerospace to our state, it far exceeds what the state has put into it so far. And consider other states are willing to put in a lot more.
Q: Are the industry's unions here a strength or a weakness?
A:
Recently, with the new four-year collective bargaining agreement signed by Boeing and the Machinists, they are a strength. The unions have to be careful, though, not to overplay their hand, just as the company has to be careful not to overplay its hand. The company has to be able to compete for skilled workers, so it has to offer attractive packages to those workers, and the union has to be careful to remember that they are competing in a national market, certainly, but also in a global market to the extent they are competing with Airbus.
When unions came in late in those (2008) negotiations and demanded as a condition of signing a long-term agreement that Boeing commit to build every new airplane, current models and future models, in Washington state, I think they overplayed their hand. There is no way a multinational corporation can commit that it will never build anything outside of one state. That's a key reason why Boeing decided to open the next plant in South Carolina. If we didn't understand it before, now we understand that our state is directly competing with another state to keep jobs here and to have future jobs created here.
Q: Did you agree or disagree with the conclusions reached in the National Labor Relations Board complaint against the Boeing Co.?
A:
I look at the NLRB issue as a matter of law, and it did not appear to me that Boeing's move to South Carolina in order to expand its production capacity violated federal law, because they weren't moving existing jobs. They were deciding to create some of their new jobs in South Carolina, and they'd been creating new jobs in our state. It's hard to see how that would rise to the level of retaliation that is envisioned under federal law.
Q: The governor created an aerospace office and hired a director to run it. That person will be part of the conversations with the cabinet. Do you agree with these steps?
A:
I certainly agree with the notion of assigning an individual to have aerospace as a main focus. I do wonder why we're creating new positions instead of re-purposing or making better use of existing positions. We have an entire Department of Commerce. Why can't the head of the department be the aerospace lead, or have a top deputy be the aerospace lead? That's a question I intend to ask.
Q: How will a McKenna Administration be different than Gov. Chris Gregoire's regarding aerospace?
A:
I think we are going to be more aggressive in moving Washington state off the list of the 10 most expensive states in which to employ people. We don't need to be the cheapest state in the country, but we shouldn't be one of the most expensive, either. And we're going to prioritize K-12 and higher education funding more highly. We will fund education first, including higher ed. And that's crucial if we're going to have adequate slots in higher ed for aerospace and for every other high-demand field in our state.
Story tags » BoeingGovernorState politicsState electionsAerospace

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