Boeing keeps Snohomish County economy humming

EVERETT – It’s every business professor’s dream.

Living in the Boeing Co.’s back yard provides a ready-made example of the impact of businesses and countries around the world on people locally.

While it can be a bit nerve-wracking for Snohomish County residents to have their fate wrapped up in someone else’s hands, most economists see Boeing and its global customer base as a positive economic driver.

“That is what keeps this county going,” said Donna Thompson, a Snohomish County regional labor economist with the state Employment Security Department.

As of the end of Oct. 31, 2006, about 27,600 people were employed in the aerospace industry in the county, Thompson said. Each aerospace-related job added in the county causes a ripple effect — creating approximately two jobs in other segments of the economy, such as service, housing and retail.

Snohomish County, therefore, employs about 55,000 people in jobs that exist primarily because of the county’s strong aerospace industry. Roughly one in three jobs in Snohomish County is either directly or indirectly related to aerospace, Thompson said.

Aerospace jobs tend to be well-paying jobs, thus making it easy to attract employees. For example, in 2005, average annual aerospace annual pay topped $75,000. High-paying aerospace jobs pushed Snohomish County’s average annual pay of $41,011 to the third highest in the state behind King and Benton counties.

The manufacturing segment of the economy also keeps the county afloat, keeping about 50,000 people in jobs.

“We’ve got some other big players that aren’t directly related to aerospace,” Thompson said.

During the recession earlier this decade, the manufacturing sector got hit hard as did aerospace. Globally, other countries rebounded more quickly than did the United States. With more than half its orders coming from air carriers abroad, Boeing also came out of the recession quickly.

Economist Bill Conerly, a consultant in Oregon who studies the Northwest, has been monitoring the highs and lows of the area’s economy for a long time. Typically, Conerly said, Boeing shelters the local economy from immediate downturns. It often takes two years before a dip actually reaches Snohomish County.

Neighboring King County experiences less of an impact by Boeing, Thompson said. Out of roughly 1.2 million jobs, only about 43,700 are directly related to aerospace. Overall, only 11 percent of jobs in King County are either directly or indirectly tied to the aerospace industry, she said.

Despite its shielding influence, Boeing’s decisions still packs a punch in the local economy.

When Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago, the company created a good deal of anxiety in Snohomish County and the Puget Sound area.

People feared it would move production to another location. Politicians began courting Boeing to build its new 787 Dreamliner in Washington State. Legislators approved $3.2 billion in financial incentives to keep Boeing’s plane building in the state. The unemployment rate began to fall almost immediately.

Snohomish County took a harder hit from the last recession than did most other counties in Washington, Thompson said. However, the county rebounded more quickly than did others. The decision by Boeing to build its 787 Dreamliner at the Everett plant helped pull the county through.

“All they had to do was make the announcement,” Thompson said.

Companies that had held off hiring full-time employees suddenly felt confident enough about the business climate to do so.

“It kind of just changed the whole attitude here,” she said. People thought, “Come what may, we’re still going to have Boeing.”

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