Why Everett needs more than Boeing

  • Wed Feb 5th, 2014 4:31pm

The roller-coaster ride with the January Boeing Machinist’s vote on the 777X contract revealed one of Everett’s biggest obstacles in attracting large scale real estate investment: Everett is a company town.

Investors fear that without a movement to diversify this will happen again where a contract between an employer and their staff can literally determine the future of a whole community.

Being a company town is not such a bad thing.

Boise, Idaho, is associated with the potato even though the state of Washington usually produces more potatoes than Idaho. Boise became the potato capital, though, because the potato king, JR Simplot, lived there while he revolutionized the food industry with french fries, tater tots and other ways for the world to consume his potatoes.

He stayed in town, though.

He was visible and connected to people, including many of his employees. His legacy and wealth lives on in the cultural and physical assets of Boise and over time he’s sprinkled those investments into a diversification strategy that stimulated other industries and diversified the job base there. Unfortunately, Everett doesn’t have a JR Simplot-like relationship with its big industry.

Boeing’s wealth is made up of shareholders scattered around the world and upper management resides in another town. With no local place to connect with ownership or visible signs of the shareholder wealth, citizens, political leaders and business alike tend to pay attention to the end of the business they do see.

This risks creating a culture oriented around employees and labor only.

That one-sided view then becomes baked into our institutions and every day life.

Imagine if right across the street from the entrance to your business your employees erected statues not of them building the best aircraft in the world and helping to win WWII but of burn barrels and striking workers with fists in air aimed at you as the Machinist’s union has done at its union hall across the street from the Everett Boeing plant. That’s what imbalance looks like.

The good news is that Everett’s business and political communities got spooked by this most recent ride.

The community now faces the daunting task of what to do next and how to diversify its job base while to support Boeing. In the meantime, investment remains coy waiting for something other than a rough ride on the Boeing roller coaster every few years.

Tom Hoban is CEO of The Coast Group of Companies. Contact him at 425-339-3638 or tomhoban@coastmgt.com or visit www.coastmgt.com.