Boeing party turns into wake

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson was on the factory floor at Boeing’s Everett plant Friday, ready to celebrate with workers when the company’s new refueling tanker was chosen by the U.S. Air Force.

The only problem is that the other side won.

“Clearly there was a lot of disappointment with the workers I talked with. It’s just incomprehensible to me that we could choose an aircraft that for all intents and purposes is foreign made,” said Stephanson, who was joined at the Everett plant by Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee.

“It’s awfully hard for me to believe that we wouldn’t consider American workers as part of the assessment of who wins the contract,” the mayor added.

That note was echoed by Jean Hales, president of the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s a shame that the U.S. military is going to be utilizing tankers that are primarily built in Europe instead of reinforcing our own local economy,” Hales said.

She added that the ethics scandal that tainted and ultimately canceled Boeing’s previous contract to build new tanker planes may have hurt its chances this time around.

“Decisions get made for a lot of reasons,” Hales said.

Deborah Knutson, president of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council, was one of many people who said they were “shocked” by the snub of Boeing’s bid.

“I think it’s the wrong decision,” she said. “Our congressional delegation really did a great job on this, and like them, I think the Boeing tanker is the better one.”

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon also credited the state’s congressional delegation for its work to educate the Air Force about Boeing’s tanker bid, despite Friday’s decision.

“In Snohomish County, we take great pride in the world-class products that originate in our back yard, and Boeing’s tanker would have been the most recent in a long line of truly exceptional aircraft,” Reardon said in a written statement.

Without the U.S. Air Force’s contract, production of the 767 jetliner is expected to peter out during the next four years, according to Boeing. It’s not known how many layoffs would result, as Boeing has said workers could be transferred to the booming 787 line or other work.

“It’s unfortunate for our area,” said David Beyer, president of Everett Community College, which offers training in aerospace-related skills and is opening a new technical center near Boeing’s plant next year. “The new jobs would have been great for us, because it supports what we do.”

Boeing’s economic importance to Snohomish County is hard to overestimate. It’s a huge factor in the local job market, and the thousands of workers at Boeing and its local suppliers contribute greatly to local retail and real estate sales. As Knutson said, “All of those jobs mean more cars being bought, more houses being purchased and all of that.”

“Everything is affected, not only from the monetary standpoint, but from the mental standpoint,” said Linda Johannes, the longtime general manager of the Everett Mall, where sales rise and fall in part with Boeing’s local workforce. “When Boeing sneezes, we all grab for the Kleenex. It really does affect every aspect of our economy.”

Everett real estate agent Karen Schweinfurth, last year’s president of the Snohomish County Camano Association of Realtors, knows that Everett’s economy and housing market are tethered to Boeing’s fortunes. So much so that the local Realtors’ organization has photos of jumbo jets on its Web site.

“I’ve been through the good, the bad and the ugly,” Schweinfurth said.

Hales said she prefers to focus on Boeing’s successes. Compared with four or five years ago when the future of the Everett assembly plant was being debated and thousands of aerospace workers were being laid off, things aren’t bad, even without a tanker contract, she said.

But don’t count Boeing out on the tanker contract, either, Knutson said.

“I would venture to say it’s not over yet,” she said.

Reporters David Chircop and Julie Muhlstein contributed to this story.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or

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