Mayor likes Everett’s chances for 777X wing work

EVERETT — Mayor Ray Stephanson believes Everett is well positioned to host a wing-assembly plant for Boeing’s next-generation 777, when an expected announcement comes in mid-February.

Stephanson gave his take on aerospace and other economic realities Thursday during his annual state of the city speech. He began by praising Boeing Machinists’ recent approval of a labor contract that the company says will ensure future 777 manufacturing in Washington.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that this is a good contract,” he said.

Stephanson has led the city for a decade and ran unopposed last fall for another four-year term. His speech at the Everett Golf &Country Club was sponsored by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

The talk gave a boosterish assessment for the evolving mill town once known as the “city of smokestacks.”

The change is driven not only by the aerospace industry, the mayor said, but also from several downtown building projects, industrial expansion on the waterfront and growth in higher education.

The mayor did warn, however, of the need to draft a long-term plan to balance city finances. While expenses have been growing by about 3 percent per year, annual revenues have only grown about 1 percent. City leaders hope this spring to zero in on possible solutions, including a combination of service cutbacks along with higher taxes and fees.

The cornerstone of Stephanson’s speech was a reflection on the narrow Jan. 3 vote by local International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to accept Boeing’s early contract extension. Union members approved the offer by 51 percent, after an overwhelming rejection of an earlier offer in November.

The workers agreed to a gradually give up a defined pension plan, among other concessions. In exchange, Boeing promised to keep 777X assembly in Everett and to build the jetliner’s wings somewhere in Washington.

Stephanson and other political leaders, including Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, took heat from some labor supporters for urging the contract’s approval.

The mayor said they adopted their stance after studying the contract, and didn’t enter into the decision blindly.

“I think this is a great quid pro quo, frankly,” he said.

The wisdom of that vote will emerge in years to come, Stephanson predicted.

Boeing is expected to announce in a couple of weeks where it wants to build the 777X’s composite wings. Snohomish and Pierce counties are leading contenders.

Stephanson said the location of the main 777 assembly plant in Everett should give it the edge for building the wings.

“Because of the size of the wing and because of the way it’s going to be produced, proximity is really going to be important,” he said.

Boeing wasn’t the only airplane-related topic that came up Thursday. Stephanson applied a sense of urgency to building a commercial passenger terminal at Snohomish County’s Paine Field.

“We absolutely have to commit that we are going to be under construction with that terminal by the end of this year,” he said.

He said the lack of commercial air service is scaring away new businesses and preventing others from expanding: “We are losing companies.”

If the county is unwilling or unable to build the terminal, the mayor would like to see the city of Everett, the Port of Everett, or a private business take on the project.

On the waterfront, Stephanson said he looked forward to the arrival of a future Foss Maritime Co. shipyard, which could employ some 250 workers after its built in three years or so.

A sale of the 60-acre property is pending between Foss’ parent company, Saltchuk, and Kimberly-Clark Corp.

There are opportunities for expansion at Naval Station Everett, the mayor said. Early discussions also are underway with the U.S. Coast Guard about basing more vessels here.

In downtown Everett, Stephanson highlighted a 110-unit Hampton Inn by Hilton scheduled to open this spring. An indoor farmers’ market and 220 luxury apartments under construction next door are expected to be ready next year.

A 156-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel on former city land next to City Hall should be under construction by mid-2014, Stephanson predicted. Financing for Touchstone Corp.’s oft-delayed project is expected to come through this spring.

The company is under a city-imposed deadline to start work by the end of October.

The mayor projected galloping growth for higher education in Everett, boasting that WSU’s nascent presence here will “one day will rival the campus in Pullman.”

“Are we a better city than we were 10 years ago?” Stephanson asked. “I think unequivocally, the answer is yes.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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