Aerospace, like timber and agriculture, is embedded in the soil: The Pacific Northwest has seeded and harvested engineers since William Boeing tested his Model C naval trainer in 1916.
While the industry is diverse, with 200 aerospace suppliers between Arlington and Bothell alone, Boeing remains the big Kahuna — a colossus the Northwest could lose by attrition to the Palmetto State. To hint at moving seems alarmist, but hints galvanize policymakers.
Boeing CEO Jim McNerney called Everett an “attractive place” to manufacture the next generation of Boeing 777s, The Herald’s Michelle Dunlop reports, but Snohomish County’s largest employer can be a fickle suitor.
A couple of generations and the era of Bill Allen and T Wilson was supplanted by Phil Condit’s age of hubris. There was the 1997 McDonnell Douglas merger, and the uprooting of corporate headquarters to a Midwest city that will go unnamed. Boeing’s board of directors (someone push the panic button) has no Everett-Seattle-Renton roots.
Washington nevertheless has the foundational goods that can’t be duplicated in South Carolina, and company directors understand that. Boeing has invested $1 billion in its Everett plant over the past 5 years.
A vital infrastructure, broadly defined, has a rising-tide effect. The centerpiece of a keep-‘em-here strategy elevates higher ed, K-12, and transportation. It’s another reason why lawmakers shouldn’t punt on a special-session transpo package.
Gov. Jay Inslee is positioned to articulate a comprehensive strategy and a strong, clear vision on aerospace. Does he have a game plan and a means to implement it? A blueprint won’t be as entertainingly mercenary as South Carolina’s $120 million Boeing giveaway, but it should mollify the aerospace sector about predictability, that its vitality and Washington’s economic health are interdependent.
In the final years of the Gregoire era, aerospace execs developed a sense of trust that state government could adapt and work in common cause. And with a visit to Everett this week, Inslee will have a platform to underscore his strategy.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and regional leaders have quietly urged an Inslee sit-down with McNerney to graduate “attractive place” to the no-question place. It’s a manageable goal. A promising, bipartisan sign is the Senate Majority Coalition’s apparent willingness to yield and support the Governor’s Office of Aerospace.
The Washington Aerospace Partnership, along with labor and business, are mobilized to help. A healthy aerospace sector is more about leadership than it is politics. It’s embedded in the soil.