Gregoire announces push to land 737 replacement

Gov. Chris Gregoire is trying to position Washington as the frontrunner for the Boeing Co.’s next all-new aircraft, launching an early effort on Wednesday to secure that jet line.

“Washington is the home of the 737. And we want to be the home of the next 737 whatever that may be,” Gregoire sa


Boeing has yet to launch an all-new replacement aircraft for the 737. The jet maker also has not announced criteria for a production site competition. But Boeing is expected to make a decision on the Renton-built jet’s future this year.

However, Gregoire doesn’t want Washington to be in the position it was in 2003, when Boeing put its 787 production site up for competition. The state won the contest after dangling $3.2 billion in incentives in front of Boeing.

“Last time, it was a scramble,” Gregoire said.

“I want to do it right. I want to be ahead of everybody.”

On Wednesday, Gregoire appointed lawyer Tayloe Washburn to lead the state’s efforts in securing Boeing’s next jet production line. The governor also will call on labor, aerospace companies and community leaders to prepare for the next jet contest. She envisions a continuation of the state’s efforts to help Boeing land the U.S. Air Force tanker contract earlier this year.

Washburn has served as co-chairman of the Washington Aerospace Partnership, which worked with Gregoire to organize supporters across the state to push for a Boeing win in the tanker contest. He has worked as a land-use lawyer with Foster Pepper LLC for 25 years, playing a role on public and private projects including the Port of Seattle’s third runway and King County’s Brightwater Regional Wastewater system.

“Washington’s role as the No. 1 aerospace cluster in the world is an excellent foundation, however we have work to do as a state to take our aerospace competitiveness to the next level,” Washburn said.

Washburn will join the governor later this month at the Paris Air Show, where they’ll tout the state’s 650 aerospace companies and 84,000 aerospace workers.

At a press conference Wednesday, Washburn highlighted a few of Washington’s strengths, including excellent infrastructure, a skilled workforce and innovative companies in areas such as aviation biofuels and composites.

At the international air show, Gregoire and Washburn also will get an early look at other potential competitors for Boeing’s new plane. In past contests, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Texas have all been contenders for large aerospace projects.

In 2009, Boeing named South Carolina as home to the second production line for its 787 without holding a formal competition among states. Rather than push the state for more incentives, Boeing bargained with its Machinists union with the intention of signing a long-term labor agreement. Boeing selected South Carolina when the company and union couldn’t reach a deal.

Boeing’s 2009 pick of South Carolina is under scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board. In a complaint against the jet maker, the board’s general counsel alleges Boeing retaliated against the Machinists for past labor strikes in selecting South Carolina. The labor board wants Boeing to set up a second permanent 787 line in Everett to make up for its alleged wrongdoing.

Boeing is planning a ribbon-cutting at its $750 million North Charleston facility on Friday.

Gregoire reiterated on Wednesday her belief that politicians should stay out of the labor board complaint. And she downplayed any influence the case could have on the next jet contest, saying that Boeing and the Machinists’ relationship has improved.

For the moment, neither Gregoire nor Washburn are saying which locations in Washington might make the strongest case for Boeing’s new jet. However, a large amount of land would be needed, given comments made by Mike Bair, who’s looking into the fate of the 737 for Boeing.

Bair has said the company envisions a supplier supersite wherever its next new aircraft is built. Boeing got itself in trouble on its latest all-new aircraft, the 787, by relying too heavily on a supply chain that’s strung out across the globe. Bair led the 787 program for several years.

“There are a number of different sites around the state,” Washburn said. In this early effort, though, “we are working as a state.”

The cities of Arlington and Marysville are working together to combine roughly 3,200 acres of industrial land for the endeavor. The Port of Bremerton already has met with aerospace groups to get informed about what it might take to lure Boeing there. Moses Lake and Spokane also show potential as sites for Boeing.

“If we have more than one site competing for Boeing, all the better for Washington state,” Gregoire said.

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