Missouri pitches bid for Boeing aircraft plant

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — As suitors across the country line up hoping to land a new Boeing Co. commercial aircraft manufacturing plant and its thousands of high-paying jobs, Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday stressed the company’s Show-Me State roots and vowed to compete aggressively against the other bidders.

Missouri is among several states vying to produce the Boeing 777X commercial airplane. Alabama, California, South Carolina, Texas and Utah also are pursuing the project. The Chicago-based aircraft manufacturing giant initially wanted to build the jet in Washington state, where the company was founded, but scrapped those plans after union machinists refused to accept concessions in a proposed contract. Boeing immediately looked elsewhere, and company executives met privately with Nixon last week.

The Democratic governor took his pitch Wednesday to about 300 civic and business leaders in St. Louis and St. Charles County at an awards luncheon hosted by Progress 64 West, a group that promotes development along the Interstate 64 corridor. Nixon said he and legislative leaders are considering whether to hold a special session on possible economic incentives for the manufacturer before lawmakers’ scheduled return to Jefferson City in early January.

“When it comes to game-changing manufacturing projects, it doesn’t get much bigger than this,” Nixon said. “This is a huge, transformative project and we’re going to compete for all of it.”

He didn’t offer details on how much he thinks Missouri would have to provide Boeing in tax incentives, but the Legislature in recent years twice has approved costly packages crafted to entice specific corporations to move to the state.

In 2008, lawmakers authorized $240 million of tax credits for Bombardier Aerospace to build passenger jets near Kansas City International Airport. The company instead chose to manufacture the planes in Mirabel, Canada, near its Montreal headquarters.

Two years later, Nixon summoned legislators to a special session to consider incentives for Ford Motor Co. to continue manufacturing vehicles at its facility near Kansas City. Lawmakers subsequently approved $150 million of auto industry incentives that have been used by Ford and General Motors Co. to expand production in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.

But those deals pale to the largess some states have offered, including Washington, which a decade ago gave Boeing more than $3 billion in tax credits. Lawmakers there also have approved nearly $9 billion in tax breaks over more than a decade should the Boeing 777X plant stay close to home.

Since Boeing expects to choose a location as soon as January, Nixon and other elected leaders have to move fast.

“It will be a short Thanksgiving,” he said. “This is moving quickly. It’s a matter of days, not weeks.”

Boeing already employs 15,000 people in Missouri, with the St. Louis region the aircraft-maker’s second-largest location outside of Seattle, where the company’s defense unit is based. Nixon joined company CEO W. James McNerney Jr. at the Paris Air Show in June to announce the addition of 400 information technology jobs at its north St. Louis County campus. Nixon traced the company’s Missouri connections to aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, which was based at Lambert-International Airport in St. Louis before its 1997 merger with rival Boeing.

“The aerospace industry has long been part of the fabric of this region’s identity and economy,” Nixon said. “Our long tradition of excellence in aerospace spans from Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis, to McDonnell Douglas and Boeing Defense.

“For generations, workers here in Missouri have built the aircraft and weapons that have kept our world safe and our economy strong.”

Asked after his speech how Missouri could attract Boeing after missing out five years ago on its bid for the Canadian company, Nixon again cited the company’s familiarity with the state.

“Boeing has a significant investment in this region, and our workers have performed in a very competitive way for them,” the governor said. “You have, in essence, a hometown company.”

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