State, local leaders take steps to land 777X

EVERETT — Boeing Co. officials merely need to ask for permits to add a 777X wing fabrication site in Snohomish County and their wish will be granted.

And granted quickly at that.

State and local lawmakers paved the way Thursday for a composite wing manufacturing facility at or near Boeing’s Everett plant at Paine Field. They also sought a designation that will make it easier to get funding for transportation projects that benefit Boeing 777X production in the future.

None of that guarantees Boeing will assemble the upgraded 777’s wings in the Puget Sound region or assemble the jet here.

Boeing has yet to commit formally to designing and building an upgraded version of its popular Everett-built 777. Company officials have indicated the program’s launch likely will come before year’s end. A decision on where to assemble the jet and its innovative wings could come shortly thereafter.

“I can’t imagine a project that has more significance to the entire state of Washington than the facilities necessary to design and fabricate the 777X and its component parts,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday in a news release.

Inslee said he has instructed the state Department of Commerce to consider 777X facilities a “project of statewide significance.” It’s a designation Washington lawmakers created in 1997, but it has never invoked. The Department of Commerce decides based on certain criteria.

Communities surrounding a project need to request the designation, and leaders in Snohomish County and the City of Everett on Wednesday passed a joint resolution seeking the designation for 777X manufacturing. The two municipalities also pledged to expedite 777X facility planning and permitting within their own jurisdictions.

“We’re doing everything we can to land the 777X,” said Snohomish County Executive John Lovick.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, who leads the governor’s 777X permitting task force, believes Boeing has enough room within the Everett factory to assemble the revamped 777X. The jet maker, however, would need to construct a facility to fabricate the 777X’s longer composite wings.

The task force has identified six locations at or near Boeing’s Everett factory that could accommodate a 600,000-square-foot facility for wing fabrication. Five of those sites are at the Boeing site near the airport under the City of Everett’s jurisdiction. One is on Snohomish County property not far from the Future of Flight center on the west side of Paine Field.

Both Everett and Snohomish County plan to take steps to make building on any one of those six sites possible, though Boeing hasn’t asked them to.

“There are no show-stoppers preventing Boeing from building the wing here,” Stephanson said in an interview.

Lovick and Stephanson plan to request a meeting soon with Boeing leaders to go over the options they’ve identified.

The 777X permitting team doesn’t believe any mitigation would be needed to develop any one of the sites. They’ve also studied the traffic and roads around Boeing’s Everett facility and determined no changes would be required to add the 777X wing building.

Lawmakers will have an advantage when seeking funding for transportation projects that benefit the 777X site, even if no road projects are required for permitting the facility. Deeming the 777X facility as one of statewide significance makes getting funding easier. However, there’s no specific money allocated to a 777X-related project.

Transportation was one of two areas identified by Inslee as important to the aerospace industry during the 2013 session of the Legislature. Lawmakers in Olympia approved nearly $30 million in funding for education and workforce training projects that will benefit aerospace. After two special sessions, the Legislature adjourned June 29 without approving transportation initiatives.

Unlike the 2003 competition to convince Boeing to build the 787 in Washington, Boeing hasn’t come out with a list of specific demands for a 777X assembly line. Stephanson, however, believes the company would make it clear if Washington leaders weren’t moving in the right direction.

Everett and Snohomish County officials also are contributing funds to the Washington Aerospace Partnership, a nonprofit group consisting of labor groups, government and a few businesses. The Partnership will use the money — $60,000 from Everett and $70,000 from Snohomish County — to fund two new studies relating to the aerospace industry in Washington.

One study will look at the economic benefit the aerospace industry has in the state. The second will analyze the 777X competition and make recommendations to leaders seeking to secure the design and assembly of the 777X and the jet’s wing.

The combined cost for the two studies is $200,000. The studies should be completed in September. The state’s contribution will depend on how much money the Aerospace Partnership raises from other entities.

A similar competitiveness study was conducted less than two years ago when Washington was vying for the 737 MAX. The Aerospace Partnership sought and received donations from local government, business and labor groups to fund the $600,000 study. Boeing decided to build the MAX in Renton, where 737s have always been assembled.

Several previous competitiveness studies — some specific to Snohomish County — have been conducted over the past decade, including a statewide one in 2003 for the 787 assembly line.

“We intuitively know that aerospace is an important element of our economy … but we need to be able to articulate in dollars and cents just how essential it is to the financial well being of every Washingtonian,” Bob Drewel, president of the partnership, said in a statement.

Likely competitors for the 777X wing plant include Utah, Kansas and South Carolina, where composite aircraft sections are produced for the 787. Japan and Italy also provide composite sections for the 787. It’s unclear how Boeing would transport the 777X’s large wing from a remote location to a final assembly site, if that were the decision.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney has called Everett an “attractive” site for 777X assembly. It’s where Boeing will build the 777X wing that has state and local leaders concerned. Boeing workers in Frederickson in Pierce County fabricate 787 composite sections, but that’s a fraction of the composite work being done around the world for the Dreamliner. Since composites are considered the future of aviation, Washington workers slowly will fall behind if more work with composites isn’t done here.

“A composite wing is very representative of whether we have a long term future” with Boeing and the aviation industry, Stephanson said.

Herald reporter Noah Haglund contributed to this article.

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