Public money for Boeing will prove a good investment

  • By Mike Benbow / Herald Columnist
  • Sunday, June 27, 2004 9:00pm
  • Business

Our background and personal experiences are so important in how we view things.

I saw a great T-shirt that reminded me of that last week while I was eating dinner in a Marysville restaurant. The red shirt depicted several American Indians armed with spears and bore this declaration: “Fighting terrorism since 1492.”

I never thought of Columbus’ decision to sail the ocean blue in that year as a terrorist act. But I understand why the wearer, an older American Indian, might view it that way.

Point of view …

The state of Washington unveiled a consultant’s study last week that said the state’s decision to give the Boeing Co. $3.2 billion in tax incentives, training and other benefits to have the 7E7 jetliner built here was a good idea.

The study suggested that the Dreamliner will generate $20 billion to $40 billion in economic benefits for the state over 20 years. When it’s in full swing, the program is expected to support 3,250 jobs, and perhaps many more.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which has been critical of the deal in the past, said those numbers should be viewed with a grain of salt since the consultant that produced them was a branch of Deloitte &Touche, which is Boeing’s accountant.

I’m not an accountant and I don’t know if the state tweaked the numbers. But I’m siding with the state on this one. Again, we’re talking about point of view.

My three regular readers already know that I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, a city so heavily industrialized at that time that a big section of the Cuyahoga River once caught fire because of factory waste.

I never felt good about living in an area that was an environmental joke, but it did have a good side.

Many of my neighbors had what are now described as family-wage jobs. They built cars at the GM or Ford plants or made the steel for those vehicles at the U.S. Steel plant.

The steel plant closed some time ago. Ford announced last week that it was closing its Econoline van plant in the area next year, eliminating 1,200 jobs. These are jobs with good health plans and good vacations, jobs that pay for good homes and support strong economies.

These are also jobs that likely will never be replaced.

Like it or not, we’re in an era where manufacturers are moving work to the least expensive areas around the world. I hate to see that happen where I grew up because I’m sure a good number of those 1,200 disappearing jobs were filled by people I know.

Areas without jobs can be beautiful, but they can create a difficult life.

I got a sense of that on a recent vacation in the north woods of Maine.

It was a stunningly beautiful area with some great fishing – which is why I was there.

While the environment is spectacular, the tourist-based economy wasn’t particularly good. People there typically need more than one job to survive.

Take, for example, a fishing guide we used one day. He also guides hunters in the fall and has a Web site that sells imported shotguns from Italy and handmade fly-fishing reels. And he’s also a pretty good carpenter.

He may do other stuff, too. It just didn’t come up in conversation.

A big part of our conversation was how a company was planning to build a state-of-the-art dimensional lumber mill that would use Maine logs now being sent to Canada.

He was clearly looking forward to the jobs it would bring.

Having recently seen a beautiful area without jobs and having grown up in a not-so-beautiful area now losing some of its jobs makes me appreciate Snohomish County all the more.

We have jobs and a great environment. If we have to spend some public money to keep those jobs, I think we’re still much better off than most other parts of the country.

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; benbow@heraldnet.com.

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