Inslee picks panel to make pitch for 777X jobs

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is enlisting a dozen Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the state’s effort to convince the Boeing Co. to design and build the next generation of the popular and profitable 777, dubbed the 777X, in Washington.

The lawmakers are to serve on a new panel that Inslee is to formally announce Wednesday in an Everett speech to aerospace executives, including several from Boeing.

Inslee would like the 777X Legislative Task Force to move swiftly to address issues in transportation, taxation and regulation in a way that will sway Boeing as it prepares to launch the program and decide where it will assemble the aircraft, including new carbon-fiber-composite wings.

“Washington is facing intense competition from several other states,” state Director of Aerospace Alex Pietsch wrote to legislative leaders. “If Boeing chooses to assemble the aircraft in another state, Washington could experience a slow deterioration of its aerospace cluster, creating an uncertain future for the state in the long-run.

“However, with the right strategy and execution, Washington state will capture the 777X program, including wing manufacturing, while strengthening the health of its aerospace cluster and preserve tens of thousands of family-wage jobs for a generation,” Pietsch wrote.

It is anticipated Boeing will announce the launch of the 777X program at an international air show in Dubai in November.

Leaders of the Chicago-based company have given no hints as to where the plane will be built.

In May, Inslee unveiled a strategy aimed at capturing the work and shaping the state aerospace industry for decades to come.

Shortly thereafter, he directed the state Department of Commerce to consider potential 777X projects to be of “statewide significance.” That official designation would ensure faster permitting.

A lot of focus is on a chunk of the proposed Paine Field Aerospace Business Park as the best place for Boeing to add manufacturing capacity for the twin-aisle jet.

Owned by Snohomish County, the land on the west side of the airport’s main runway could accommodate a factory of 600,000 square feet plus parking and other facilities.

While design, environmental assessment and permitting typically takes 12 to 18 months, a task force led by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson concluded that permits could be handed over in four weeks.

That might not be enough to win over Boeing, which is increasing its presence in other states, particularly South Carolina, where it builds some 787s.

Inslee wants the task force to dive into very complicated issues like transportation, taxation, regulation, worker compensation and water quality standards.

An equal number of lawmakers from both parties and from both chambers of the Legislature will serve on the task force.

Democratic Sens. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, Nick Harper of Everett and Karen Keiser of Kent are on the panel.

So are Republican Reps. Norma Smith of Clinton, Matt Manweller of Ellensburg and Drew MacEwen of Union.

A full roster is expected to be released by the governor Wednesday.

“The Legislature knows that confronting the high cost of workers’ compensation insurance and unemployment insurance as well as addressing the long delays in project permitting are keys to keeping employers in the state,” MacEwen said in a statement.

“I believe we can come to a middle ground on these and many other recommendations from consultants studying competitiveness at the state level.”

The task force will hold its first meeting on the second day of the Governor’s Aerospace Summit at Comcast Arena in Everett.

Also invited to sit in are representatives of the Washington Aerospace Partnership, the Aerospace Futures Alliance and two unions — the International Association of Machinists Local 751 and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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