Hiring wave hits Boeing

The Boeing Co. plans to add up to 3,000 workers at its Puget Sound factories by year’s end, the company said Friday, marking an end to 21/2 years of layoffs that stripped jobs from about 28,000 people.

The announcement is concrete evidence that Boeing’s “corporate contraction is over and the company is working on the up-phase,” said Roberta Pauer, a state labor economist in Seattle.

A couple thousand Boeing jobs won’t solve the region’s economic woes, Pauer said. “But it is significant because it marks the turning point. It marks the start of the upturn.”

Boeing plans include a mix of recalled engineers and mechanics and new hires, a company spokesman said Friday. Most of the engineers will end up working in Everett.

Boeing Commercial Airplane Group will start the process next month, with a job fair where it will recruit engineers to work on the 7E7 program, company spokesman Peter Conte said.

The company also will look to add about 400 engineers to its Puget Sound defense units. Those people will work several projects including the new Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, a new U.S. Navy anti-submarine aircraft based on 737 commercial jet.

Between the new airliner and the defense projects, “we’re going to need a lot of technical development work,” Conte said.

At the same time, Boeing plans to step up commercial aircraft production in 2005, which means recalling about 1,000 laid-off Machinist union members, Conte said.

The Machinists will be brought back by seniority from the union’s recall list, said Ron McGaha, the assistant to the union’s district president. The timing isn’t clear yet, he said.

Still, “Any good news, we’ll take it,” he said. “It’s been a long dry spell, I tell you.”

Even with the new hiring, Boeing will continue to cut engineering jobs in some areas, said Charles Bofferding, the executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. But those people will have a chance to transfer into the new jobs, or get training to qualify for them.

It only makes sense to keep those people at Boeing, Bofferding said. “They’re really good employees.”

Boeing officials have said the company plans to build 285 planes this year, and 300 in 2005. But production is already running ahead of schedule. In the first six months of 2004, Boeing delivered 151 jets, putting it on a pace to deliver more than 300 for the year – about 6 percent more than originally projected.

In April, Boeing chief executive Harry Stonecipher said the airline industry had stabilized, and that with more people flying, airlines were in need of more planes.

“All the leasing companies are seeing pressure,” he said, “and I think that probably Airbus and ourselves are seeing interest.”

The news was welcomed in Snohomish County, where Boeing and its suppliers have eliminated 8,800 aerospace industry jobs since September 2001.

“We’re very pleased,” said Debbie Emge, the vice president for business development at the Snohomish County Economic Development Council. “We hope this is just the start of many more great news announcements.”

A recent report paid for by the state of Washington had projected that Boeing and its suppliers would hire between 2,800 and 5,100 people by the end of the year to work on the 7E7 project.

Friday’s announcement confirms that, said Robin Pollard, who heads the state’s 7E7 task force. “We continue to only get good news related to the 7E7,” she said.

The state is making progress in implementing last year’s agreement with Boeing that led to the company locating final assembly of the 7E7 in Everett, Pollard said.

The state is continuing to look at sites for the new Everett Employment Resource Center, where Boeing will train its 7E7 workers, Pollard said.

The state’s Department of Revenue also is contact with Boeing’s suppliers to make sure they know that they qualify for many of the incentives that were included in the $3.2 billion package, she said.

Boeing’s Washington state workforce has fallen from about 80,000 people in September 2001 to less than 54,000 last month. However, the company actually added 43 Puget Sound-area workers in June, according to information on its Web page, the result of hiring for defense sector jobs.

Boeing’s not likely to get that big again, Pauer said. The state expects Boeing’s work force will top out at 70,000 over the next few years, she said.

“They have out-sourced and off-shored both, and become more efficient with what is done locally,” Pauer said. “That’s something to bear in mind – all the jobs are not coming back.”

But since Boeing jobs pay well above the regional average, when the company does add workers, it has a noticeable impact on the economy. On average, every job added at Boeing means the addition of two more local jobs over the next two years, she said, as Boeing workers spend their paychecks on goods and services.

“For the larger economy, the news that Boeing is concretely beginning an increase in productivity and hiring … it means a stimulus,” she said. “That certainly with enhance our growth rate.”

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