Boeing’s decision raises doubts about long-term future

  • By Michelle Dunlop, Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, October 28, 2009 10:35pm
  • Business

EVERETT — Is this the beginning of the end for the Boeing Co. in the Puget Sound region?

That’s the question many are asking after Boeing picked Charleston, S.C., over Everett for the site of its second 787 assembly line.

“Over the course of the next decade and a half you could see Boeing being just a shadow of itself here,” said Scott Hamilton, a local analyst with Leeham Co., referring to Washington state.

The major concern for the region is whether Boeing’s next all-new jet programs, replacements for its 737 and 777 aircraft, will follow the second line out of Washington. Hamilton believes that Boeing could make a decision on the new plane programs in the 2013 to 2015 time frame.

Some local leaders say the state will need to up the ante if it hopes to convince Boeing to build those jets here.

“We can’t go along doing business as usual,” said Aaron Reardon, Snohomish County executive.

Deborah Knutson, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County, called Boeing’s Charleston selection a “wake-up call” to the state and community. South Carolina was willing to make the effort — passing tax incentives in a special session — that Washington did to win the first 787 line in 2003, she said.

“We were just complacent,” Knutson said.

State Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, suggested that state lawmakers take a hard look at a competitiveness study they funded last session.

“Washington must be leaner and meaner if we’re going to compete in this global economy,” Hewitt said.

Analyst Hamilton thinks the 2012 contract negotiations between Boeing and its unions could be key to the future of Boeing’s next airplane programs.

In the short term, Boeing’s decision on Wednesday could mean more jobs in Everett. The company will ramp up 787 work here before the Charleston site is operational. Boeing said this strategy will “ensure the successful introduction of the 787-9” the first derivative of the Dreamliner. Eventually, though, the extra capacity here will be phased out as Charleston picks up the pace.

Boeing said that the Charleston move makes the company more competitive, in turn ensuring jobs for its employees here in the Puget Sound region.

On Wednesday, however, some Boeing workers questioned how far Boeing plans to go to reduce its bottom line.

Charlie Grieser, a team leader on the 787 program, was in the Machinists hall in Everett shortly after Boeing’s announcement. He’s been with the union for 31 years and sees Boeing management, not its Machinists union, as the problem.

“I think the Boeing Co. has a long term plan to move to China, and South Carolina is just a pit stop,” Grieser said.

Reporter Amy Rolph contributed to this story.

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