State told to do more to keep Boeing in Washington

  • By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
  • Thursday, August 20, 2009 8:53pm
  • Business

MUKILTEO — What does Washington need to do to preserve and grow its aerospace industry?

That’s what lawmakers and industry leaders tried to sort out during a meeting hosted Thursday by the Snohomish County Council in preparation for the 2010 legislative session. The question has become more urgent as the Boeing Co. considers where to locate a second production line for its delayed 787 Dreamliner.

If Boeing leaves Washington “they’re walking away from their competitive advantage,” said Stan Sorscher, legislative director with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, one of Boeing’s major unions.

Labor leaders Sorscher and Larry Brown with Boeing’s Machinists union believe the state needs to talk up its advantages — an experienced work force and a large aerospace cluster — while tweaking issues, like transportation and education.

“We want to start playing offense for the state of Washington,” Brown said.

Ben Hempstead, with aerospace tooling company Electroimpact in Mukilteo, also sees ways the state could improve its image nationally and internationally. The state hasn’t made a strong showing at recent trade shows, making it less likely new companies will locate here or do business with aerospace companies in the region.

Some industry leaders say that’s simply not enough.

For its part, Boeing hasn’t finalized its legislative priorities for 2010, said Dave Schumacher, the company’s director of governmental affairs.

But “it’s very much a business climate agenda,” Schumacher said.

Last year, Boeing pushed the Legislature to consider reducing the burden on businesses in unemployment insurance and workers compensation costs. Like its unions, Boeing also favors improvements in education and transportation.

The county and Aerospace Futures Alliance came up with their own plan for addressing issues with aerospace training in the state, striking a lease agreement for a facility at Everett’s Paine Field.

Alliance director Linda Lanham insists that the state needs better coordination of its training efforts at community colleges and technical schools — that’s something the center, when it opens in October, will address.

“Its very important for us to have a statewide program,” she said.

John Monroe, a retired Boeing executive who serves as aerospace adviser for the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County, suggests that the state needs to do more to assist Boeing and other aerospace companies.

“You should show them the love,” he said.

For example, given Boeing’s announcement in June that it has created an unmanned airborne systems division, Washington politicians should try to determine how to assist the company and how to lure related suppliers to the state, Monroe said.

State and local lawmakers hope the industry will narrow its wish list in time for the session and provide them with more specific suggestions. But most agree that Boeing’s decision on a second 787 line will come down to its relationship with its unions.

“We’d like to make a long-term commitment to the state and we’d like to see Boeing make a long-term commitment to the state, too,” the Brown said.

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