Quick permits promised for a Boeing 777X factory

EVERETT — Four weeks. That’s how quickly state and local officials are committing to hand over permits for a new 777X facility at or near Boeing’s Paine Field factory, should the company wish to build one.

Compare that to a period of 12 to 18 months under normal circumstances.

The new time line for permits was revealed in a report submitted to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee by a task force led by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson. The panel has wrapped up evaluation of regulatory hurdles for potential 777X manufacturing sites around the airport.

The task force found no significant obstacles for Boeing, should the company pick Snohomish County as the place to assemble an upgraded version of the popular 777, Inslee wrote in a statement emailed to the Herald.

“Winning the design and fabrication of the 777X, its composite wings and as many of its component parts as possible is Washington’s greatest economic development priority,” he wrote.

Boeing has not said where it will assemble the next version of the 777. The present model is built in Everett. The company is expected to launch the 777X this year, perhaps at the Dubai Air Show in November. A decision on the jet’s assembly location could come a few months later.

The 777X will have composite wings, like the Boeing 787. Lawmakers in Washington are anxious to secure the factory for the new wing here. In July, Inslee instructed the state Department of Commerce to designate potential 777X sites as “Projects of Statewide Significance” to help expedite permitting.

The task force identified five possible locations at Paine Field that are large enough to accommodate a wing factory. One is on the Mukilteo side of the airport, on property owned by the county, and four locations are on Boeing’s factory property in Everett, on the northeast side of the airport.

The report suggests the a wing plant might employ up to 1,100 people — an educated guess based on employment at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 787 wing plant in Japan, said Alex Pietsch, director of the Governor’s Office of Aerospace.

Stephanson and other local officials presented the task force report on Wednesday to Bill McSherry, Boeing’s director of state and local government operations for the Northwest. Although Pietsch called the meeting positive, he and Inslee acknowledge there is likely more work to be done in wooing Boeing.

“We are exploring a wide variety of initiatives designed to ensure Boeing chooses Washington for this work,” Inslee wrote in his email.

Other initiatives could be revealed after two other studies, overseen by the Washington Aerospace Partnership, are completed in late September. The partnership is collecting donations from labor groups and government to pay for the studies of the state’s competitiveness and the economic benefit of the aerospace industry.

Washington faces competition for Boeing work from southern U.S. states like South Carolina, where Boeing has a 787 assembly plant, as well as Japan.

The Seattle Times reported Thursday that Boeing will test new ways of automating 777X assembly in Anacortes. The result of that effort could sway the company to keep 777X work in Everett.

Regardless of Boeing’s decision, Snohomish County officials are laying the groundwork for an aerospace industrial park at Paine Field. Should Boeing not want the county-owned site on the west side of the airport, speedy permitting “will benefit other aerospace employers or manufacturers interested in locating in the southwest Everett-Paine Field area,” Everett Mayor Stephanson wrote to Inslee.

Pietsch called expedited permitting a model for how Washington deals with projects of significant economic impact in the future.

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

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