By David A. Lieb Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri was in the running to land a new Boeing airplane assembly plant right up until the final moments when the company decided to make the plane in Washington state, according to documents released Monday.
The records confirm Missouri not only offered billions of dollars of tax incentives to the aerospace company, but also pledged to build special highway interchanges and shut down a public golf course to make way for a Boeing facility on land near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
The documents provided to The Associated Press under a Sunshine Law request show Boeing officials visited St. Louis on Dec. 28 to check out Missouri’s proposal. A follow-up visit was scheduled for Jan. 4.
That visit was canceled after union members in Washington voted Jan. 3 to accept Boeing’s contract proposal. The Chicago-based company then quickly announced that it would assemble the 777X commercial airplane in the Seattle area, its traditional operating base.
Boeing had generated frenzy among states about a month earlier by soliciting proposals for the multibillion-dollar airplane assembly plant after union machinists in Washington rejected the company’s initial contract offer. Nearly two dozen states submitted more than 50 proposed locations to Boeing in mid-December.
The company never publicly released a list of finalists for the project and has no plans to do so, Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said Monday.
“Boeing had considerably narrowed its list of contenders at that point,” Alder said. “We were highly engaged with everyone that was still in the process. … It was very serious.”
Missouri’s state and local incentive package, totaling more than $3 billion, was aired publicly because Gov. Jay Nixon called a special legislative session to change the state’s business incentive laws to accommodate such a big project. But the governor and economic development officials had said a confidentiality agreement signed with Boeing prevented them from divulging other specific details about Missouri’s bid for the assembly plant.
The AP submitted an open-records request for the documents after Boeing announced it was staying in Washington. The Department of Economic Development was able to release the records because they no longer dealt with an active proposal.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Monday that the governor “is very proud of the efforts that made Missouri one of the finalists.” The unsuccessful bid “sent a strong message” that “we are always going to compete” for high-paying jobs, he said.
The documents show Missouri submitted three options to Boeing to assemble the wing or full plane at either of two locations near Lambert airport.
In a cover letter accompanying the thick stack of documents, Nixon described Missouri as “the ideal place for Boeing to locate this industry-changing project.” He noted that generations of Missouri residents already have built military planes for Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas, which Boeing acquired. The company currently employs about 15,000 people in Missouri.
To assemble both the fuselage and wing of the Boeing 777X, Missouri proposed to use more than 300 acres located just west of Lambert airport, part of which currently consists of a Bridgeton municipal golf course that would have had to relocate. The “heavily vegetated” property would have required “major grading” to level out hills and valleys, the demolition of an 18,000 square-foot building and a bridge over U.S. Highway 67 to connect to a new office building and parking lot to the assembly plant, according to the documents.
Other proposed road and bridge changes, including improvements to the entrance and exit ramps at interstates 70 and 270, could have pushed the total highway construction costs to $83 million, the documents stated.
Missouri offered two alternatives if Boeing wanted to assemble only the planes’ wings in the state. It could have used a portion of the Bridgeton land on the west end of the airport or a 132-acre site on the east side of the airport in what previously was a residential neighborhood in Berkeley. The homes already have been bought out and razed as part of noise buffer zone around the airport.
Though less costly, that site also would have required millions of dollars of road improvements, including a revamped interchange with Interstate 170.
Missouri’s proposal to Boeing included reports about soil samples, a copy of the 1997 environmental impact study related to a runway expansion, local zoning regulations, estimated utility costs and statistics on the local labor force. Officials billed Missouri as a “runway of opportunity.”
Among other things, the materials presented to Boeing officials at the Dec. 28 meeting showed that Missouri’s union membership rates were below the national average — a potential selling point for Boeing leaders who had become frustrated with union members in Washington.
House Speaker Tim Jones is citing Missouri’s missed opportunity with Boeing as one reason the state should adopt a “right to work” law where union fees cannot be a condition of employment.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay testified against the “right to work” legislation during a Missouri House committee meeting Monday. Slay said Missouri was a finalist for the Boeing assembly plant but that labor laws weren’t a factor in the decision.