Boeing’s influence is felt in Washington and beyond

Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, “the congressman from Boeing.” (U.S. Air Force)

Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, “the congressman from Boeing.” (U.S. Air Force)

By Kayse Angel

Courier-Herald

The Boeing Co. is turning 100 on July 15. Throughout the year, The Daily Herald is covering the people, airplanes and moments that define The Boeing Century. More about this series

RENTON — It has taken 100 years for the Boeing Co. to become an aerospace giant.

Bill Boeing founded the company in 1916 with George Conrad Westervelt, a naval officer. Boeing’s first shop was on the shores of Lake Union.

From those beginnings, the company helped launch the airmail and commercial airline industries. It built warplanes that helped win World War II. And over the years, the company built a reputation that commanded attention and influence.

Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said that during his career, from 1977 to 2013, the Boeing delegation to Washington, D.C., was always viewed with respect.

“I used to be called the ‘congressman from Boeing,’” Dicks said. “I didn’t mind that at all. I was elected 18 times and it didn’t hurt (Sen. Warren) Magnuson or (Sen. Henry) Jackson either.”

Bust, then boom

The company’s fortunes have long influenced Washington’s economy. When the bottom fell out of the passenger airline market in the late 1960s, followed by the failure of the supersonic transport project in 1971, the result was recession. But Boeing weathered the dark times, and by the late 1970s, production of the 727 and 737 was hitting full stride, with military and NASA contracts to come.

“When I first started, about 5 percent of Boeing’s production was defense and 95 percent commercial,” Dicks said, “Now they are a major producer in defense and produce some of the finest jets in the world.”

Anthony Hemstad, former president and CEO of the World Trade Center in Tacoma, said Boeing is the single largest exporter from the United States, and most of that product comes from Washington. The company’s economic influence is worldwide.

“Today if you get on a plane in Dubai, there is a very good chance it will be a Boeing plane,” he said.

Controversy on taxes

A controversial 2013 tax package signed by Gov. Jay Inslee gave Boeing about $9 billion in tax breaks to secure the production of the 777X.

“Building the 777X’s carbon fiber wing here really is a big deal,” Inslee said in his 2014 State of the State address. “We have lost too much aerospace work to other states and other countries. Today the wing for the 787 comes from Japan. Now we have reversed that trend of outsourcing.”

Boeing is taxed at a lower level than typical to ensure the company remains competitive, said state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn. “My concern with the conversation about the tax policy is the job loss that could occur,” he said. “Ö If Boeing left overnight, it would be cataclysmic for Washington.”

The Machinists union supports the concept of using tax incentives to spur business growth, but it hasn’t worked as planned with Boeing, spokesman Bryan Corliss said.

“We think it’s a good investment of tax dollars. However, the citizens of Washington state deserve an adequate return on that investment,” he said in an email. “Instead, what we’ve seen, since November 2013, is that Boeing has moved nearly 6,200 jobs out of Washington state, even as it has increased employment in states like Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina.”

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said the tax package has helped Boeing, but the results have raised eyebrows. “I think that like a lot of other legislators, that once those tax breaks were enacted, we saw a lot of jobs move out of state,” he said. “If we could do it over, maybe we would do a little different formula.”

The state is now married to Boeing, for better or worse.

“Boeing is the largest exporter in the United States and its supply chain and economic impact stretches across our country,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said in an email. “I can think of no higher testament to the men and women of Boeing than to hear members of the U.S. Air Force speak about their confidence and pride in flying Boeing built aircraft.”

Bill Boeing had a hope and a dream 100 years ago, and a clear idea of his mission.

“We are pioneers in a new science and a new industry,” he once told a reporter. “Our job is to keep everlastingly at research and experiment, and let no new improvement pass us by.”

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