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In the 50 years since Boeing first came to Everett, there have been enough ups and downs to challenge any long-term relationship.
Boeing has long been the largest employer in Snohomish County. Recent arrivals can be forgiven for thinking the current tiff over tax breaks to be a low point in the relationship between the company and local governments.
Many local officials courted and welcomed Boeing and the 15,000 employees the company was expected to bring to Everett to build the new 747. But when the plan was announced in 1966, it was greeted with caution in some quarters.
“Like all these relationships, they begin so positively,” said former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel.
There were fears that the county wasn’t ready for a manufacturer of Boeing’s size, and in pure planning terms, that was prescient.
Taxpayers rejected a levy that would have paid for road upgrades to support the increased traffic. The initial growing pains forced the city and county to hire more workers to keep pace with the growth in population, traffic, crime and even building permits.
At the same time, the city and county started seeing increased tax revenues, and home foreclosures dropped as a growing supply of well-paying jobs took root in Snohomish County.
The big challenge emerged as Boeing began an extended period of growth in the 1980s and 1990s.
The new 767 and twin-engine 777 required Boeing to expand its factory by about 56 acres over the course of a dozen years.
“Boeing was expanding their plant to build the 777, but they had exceeded the site population that had been granted them a long time previously,” said City Councilman Paul Roberts, who was Everett’s planning director from 1988 to 2004.
The previous limit had been 18,000 employees, but the arrival of the 777 was expected to double that, Roberts said.
The company ultimately was told to pay $50 million into a fund to support increased infrastructure development.
“The county and the city got pretty excited about mitigation funds and paying their own way, so to speak,” Drewel said.
But some local entities, including Snohomish County, appealed the decision because they felt that $50 million wasn’t enough, Roberts said. The upper echelons in Boeing’s corporate office weren’t too happy with it, either, for the opposite reason.
“But people in operations knew exactly what was happening,” Roberts said. “They knew people couldn’t build planes if they were sitting in cars.”
Also in the early 1990s, the state of Utah successfully convinced Boeing competitor McDonnell Douglas to build a factory there.
Boeing was planning what would become the 787 Dreamliner, and Washington state leaders grew apprehensive that the company might seek out a state friendlier to its business interests.
City and county staff set up a series of regular meetings with Boeing officials, Drewel said. They began to plan together, not just for the 787, but for other projects, as well.
Part of that involved planning the entire area around the main Boeing plant in advance to better accommodate future growth.
“If we could provide predictability, that would be the right step,” Roberts said.
The result has been more transparency and cooperation. And while the tax breaks extended to Boeing starting in 2003 have helped cement that relationship, the local economy has also benefited with the opening of a Dreamliner assembly line and a new wing assembly building for the 777X. Other work has similarly boosted hundreds of Boeing’s subcontractors in the area.
“The last 15 to 20 years, it seems it’s been going pretty well,” said Michael Lombardi, Boeing’s corporate historian.
Compared with Everett, where the company’s name adorns billboards and city officials regularly express thanks for its presence, Boeing’s relationship with other communities sometimes isn’t as positive, he said.
In Renton, for example, Boeing doesn’t register much in the larger community, despite the manufacturing plant in the center of town, Lombardi said.
In the future, maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship will take work on both sides.
“Like any relationship, it’s about clear and direct communication,” Roberts said. “I think the city is committed to that, and I think Boeing is, as well.”
Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; email@example.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.
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