Obama’s Boeing visit could mirror themes from Clinton’s visit in 1993

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

EVERETT — When President Barack Obama visits the Boeing Co.’s factory today, he’ll be only the second sitting president to do so.

Bill Clinton visited Boeing’s aircraft assembly site here during his presidency, according to Herald archives and Boeing’s historian — 19 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1993.

Both are Democrats. Both visits landed in the president’s first term.

Clinton talked about jobs, the economy and illegal trade practices by other countries.

Obama likely will hit some of those same key points.

But the similarities between presidential visits end there.

Clinton arrived in Everett roughly a month into his presidency, having campaigned in Seattle the previous fall. The jet-making business was in trouble as airlines struggled. Boeing’s domestic rival, McDonnell Douglas Corp., said it would lay off another 8,700 workers. The company, which eventually would be bought by Boeing, was expected to shed more than a third of its workforce in three years.

Boeing had announced plans to slash 19,000 positions from the Western Washington workforce. Pink slips had gone out to 1,761 workers just three days before Clinton arrived. Many of the workers gathered for Clinton’s speech weren’t sure if they would be laid off.

“It is indeed ironic that the United States, which for so long has led the world in the production of airplanes and in the development of sophisticated consumer-oriented services through commercial carriers, has had three years in which more money has been lost than was made in the previous history of the airline industry,” Clinton told workers at Boeing’s factory in Everett.

Clinton laid much of the blame for the aviation industry’s struggles at the feet of competitor Airbus and the illegal subsidies he alleged it received from European governments, to the tune of $26 billion.

“I want you to know that one big part of my economic strategy is to try to identify all those areas that can really provide high-wage, high-growth futures for Americans and their families and make sure that we are there competing and winning, that people have a chance to work and make a living,” Clinton said.

Clinton also met with Boeing and airline executives in Everett after his speech to discuss the industry’s future. He spent more time shaking hands with the roughly 5,000 workers and politicians gathered near a 747 in the factory than he did delivering the speech.

Today, Obama arrives in Everett during a three-day trip that includes eight fundraisers for his re-election campaign.

After a mild downturn in 2009, the aerospace industry is soaring. Boeing and Airbus are both hiring. And commercial airlines are expected to turn a profit this year.

Boeing and Airbus still are at odds over government subsidies. However, Boeing executives worry as much or more about how government handouts will give an advantage to other, rising competitors, particularly in China.

Obama, who just hosted China’s vice president in D.C., noted in his State of the Union address last month that his administration has brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as his predecessor. He also announced a new trade enforcement unit to investigate unfair practices.

The president has been touting the resurgence of American manufacturing and his plan to get the country’s economy back on track. He’s expected to address Boeing workers after taking a tour of the 787 jet assembly line. He’ll then attend two fundraisers in the Seattle area.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.