Everything revolved around the 787 in Snohomish County’s economy

EVERETT — In 2009, Snohomish County’s aerospace industry seemed to revolve around the Boeing Co.’s 787.

“The 787 was the macro story” of the year for Snohomish County, said Scott Hamilton, an analyst with Issaquah-based Leeham Co.

Like the character in a novel, the 787 has become intertwined with so many lives in the county, so many of 2009’s top stories here. Perhaps the most pervasive plot line for the 787 in 2009 was one of delays. The delays of Boeing’s 787, in essence, created or contributed to many of the other major aerospace stories affecting Snohomish County in 2009.

The 787’s delays meant that its supply chain, partially based in Snohomish County, didn’t get paid for work done on the mostly composite Dreamliner. As a result, suppliers didn’t increase their employment in the county, Hamilton noted. In fact, Snohomish County lost about 1,000 jobs in aerospace in 2009.

South Carolina: The Dreamliner delays also played into Boeing’s decision to establish a second production line in South Carolina. Boeing 787 supplier Vought Aircraft Industries had trouble with initial production. The supplier also found it difficult to cope financially as a result of the 787 delays.

Boeing’s announcement, made in late October, sent shock waves around the Puget Sound region. Boeing’s unions pointed out that their workers here have been forced to correct problems caused by suppliers elsewhere, including South Carolina. The Everett factory will see an increase in employment as the South Carolina site comes on line. Overall, however, South Carolina won jobs that Washington leaders would have liked to keep in state.

747-8: Dreamliner delays also held up Boeing’s remade 747 jumbo jet. The 747-8 Freighter will make its first flight early in 2010. But Boeing has said it kept engineers on the 787 program rather than switching them over to the 747, forcing Boeing to delay the jumbo jet’s debut as well. As it stands, Boeing has about half its factory tied up in working on “really delayed” jets, Hamilton said.

Tanker: Lawmakers and community leaders in Washington state have upped the importance they place on the upcoming U.S. Air Force tanker competition following Boeing’s decision to place its second 787 line in South Carlolina.

Boeing job cuts: Early in 2009, Boeing leaders said they would slash employment company wide by 6 percent or by roughly 10,000 jobs, in response to tough market conditions. But cutting its workforce also helps Boeing improve its bottom line in light of billions of dollars of extra development and engineering costs caused by the 787’s delay, to say nothing of the compensation sought by Dreamliner and 747-8 customers. Through the end of November, Boeing had cut its Washington state workforce by nearly 4,000. Snohomish County lost about 1,000 aerospace workers — from Boeing and suppliers combined — in 2009.

First flight: Although the delays of the 787 have hurt Boeing and Snohomish County, both got to end 2009 on a high note with the first flight of the Dreamliner. The event gave many Boeing workers, suppliers and political leaders hope that 2010 will be a better year for aerospace in Snohomish County.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454, mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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