CHICAGO — The Boeing Co. opened its new corporate headquarters for business Tuesday, becoming Chicago’s biggest company less than six months after its stunning announcement that it was leaving Seattle for a more central location.
A day ahead of the official welcoming ceremony by city and Illinois leaders, about three dozen peace activists staged what they called an "unwelcome" for the arrival of a company that had $11.8 billion in military sales last year.
Protest signs called Boeing a "merchant of death," objected to the $53 million in state and local incentives the company is getting and carried messages such as "Boeing Makes War Machines" and "Stop the New Arms Race!"
Kevin Martin, executive director of National Peace Action, drew cheers when he declared that Boeing "works for war" and paraphrased Dr. Seuss to illustrate continued opposition to the aerospace and military giant:
"We do not welcome you here,
"We do not welcome you there,
"We would not welcome you anywhere."
Boeing likely will get a much warmer, if less poetic, reception Wednesday when Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. George Ryan are to speak at the downtown office tower on the Chicago River.
Chairman and chief executive officer Phil Condit, whose business trip away from Chicago forced the welcome to be scheduled for Day 2, issued a statement saying: "Boeing is in the midst of many exciting changes, and our new world headquarters in Chicago is part of our ongoing transformation. We intend to grow our enterprise here and create businesses that open frontiers and advance technology, while allowing our business leaders in other locations to drive their businesses to their full potential."
About 200 Boeing employees began work Tuesday at the new building, where Boeing has leased the top 12 of 36 floors. That number is expected to grow to no more than 400 or 500 employees — just 0.2 percent of the company’s work force — with nearly 80,000 still in the Seattle area at Boeing’s commercial airplane manufacturing operations.
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