Big win, huge opportunity

Unexpected news is rarely great news — a commodity that’s been in short enough supply lately.

So forgive us if we’re still pinching ourselves this morning over Wednesday’s surprise announcement of a new four-year labor agreement between the Boeing Co. and its Machinists union. The deal, if ratified next week by union members, ensures the new, re-engined 737 MAX will be assembled in Renton, guaranteeing thousands of good-paying jobs that will benefit the entire region for decades.

It also almost certainly disposes of a federal case against Boeing over its decision to open a 787 production line in South Carolina, removing a significant wedge between the company and its Northwest workforce. And it clears away the cloud of a possible strike next year — and the next, and the next, and the next — that hovered as perhaps the most serious threat to the longevity of Puget Sound’s vital aerospace sector.

To be sure, hardball tactics gave each side leverage, and incentive, to make a deal. The National Labor Relations Board’s action against Boeing, claiming it opened a 787 production line in South Carolina to retaliate against the union here, was an irritation the company clearly wanted gone. And Boeing Chairman Jim McNerney proclaimed in July that the company would consider assembling the 737 MAX in another state.

Hey, this is business. The mutual loyalty that played out for so long when Boeing was a Seattle-based company is no longer part of the equation. Today’s Chicago-based Boeing is a truly global enterprise, one whose natural affinity to its historical roots fades a little more each year.

This agreement, though, represents a gigantic opportunity to solidify this region as the world’s leading aerospace hub, if leaders recognize it as such and seize it. That means making essential investments in education to ensure the region continues to have a world-class, home-grown workforce. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to invest $9.8 million, mostly for engineering programs and a university research center, is an excellent starting point.

Given the sector’s importance to the state economy, and thus to state tax revenue, the governor and lawmakers should also heed a consultant’s recent suggestion to create “a robust cabinet level aerospace office led by an industry expert” to ensure and coordinate the state’s ongoing support for the aerospace sector and its workforce.

Given the stakes, such a commitment is clearly justified. Other states will continue to covet and compete for future Boeing production. How good we all feel today reminds us that we must never take it for granted.