In Everett, a mixture of joy and relief over tanker

Despite the gloomy weather, the Puget Sound region continues to bask in the glow of the Boeing Co.’s tanker victory.

The win united Boeing workers, the community and political leaders. In the days following the Air Force’s Feb. 24 announcement, local businesses up and down Highway 99 have changed their signs to congratulate Boeing. The multibillion-dollar Air Force tanker contract will keep 11,000 people working in Washington state. Boeing offered a tanker based on its Everett-built 767 commercial jet.

Inside the company’s Everett factory on the Friday after the Air Force’s announcement, Boeing 767 program workers expressed a mixture of emotions: relief, joy and wariness about whether losing bidder EADS would try to thwart the contract. Boeing’s rival conceded a week later.

Lorraine Gibson, a six-year Boeing employee, helped oversee the company’s recent move of the 767 line inside the Everett factory. Prior to the announcement, Gibson was worried given that many analysts predicted EADS would beat Boeing for the contract.

“It would have been devastating for the Puget Sound region,” she said. Instead, “a lot of people have a future here.”

Gary Ottinger has worked on the 767 program for 15 years as a manufacturing engineer. Like Gibson, Ottinger wasn’t too sure what the outcome of the tanker contract would be. The Air Force was on its third try at handing out the $30 billion deal to replace 179 KC-135 tankers.

“A lot of us were sweating whether we’d have jobs in a couple years,” Ottinger said, as he jubilantly showed off his Team 767 rally towel. “Now, it’s no big deal. We can get my son or daughter in here working.”

Bringing in the next generation of workers also was a benefit touted by several members of the 767 tooling department. Gina Thorvilson hopes her sons will be able to work at Boeing someday. The tanker contract provides long-term job opportunities, she said.

Thorvilson’s co-worker Jan Griffith-Mower agreed.

“It means so much for the Northwest,” she said.

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