Region’s economy at stake

Local pessimists will see the Boeing Co.’s purchase of a 787 parts plant in South Carolina as a sure sign the company plans to start moving its airplane production out of Puget Sound.

The rest of us must see it for what it really is: a wake-up call — and perhaps the last, best opportunity — to mobilize government, labor and business in a focused, unprecedented effort to make Puget Sound the long-term aerospace capital of the world, led by a thriving Boeing Co.

Some leaders have already been working at it. Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, for example, has been shuttling between union and company officials in an effort to forge greater trust that will lead to labor peace and make Boeing more reliable to its customers.

At the heart of Stephanson’s effort is a no-strike agreement between Boeing and its Machinists and engineers, with contract impasses going to binding arbitration. Many public employee unions, including police and firefighters, have done very well under such arrangements.

For their own self-interest, it’s time for Boeing’s local union members, and the company, to turn the page from past animosity to a new era of cooperation.

“Unless things change,” Washington Roundtable Chair John Stanton said in a statement Tuesday, “Boeing’s future will be outside the Northwest and that will be devastating to the Washington economy.”

Indeed, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Every Puget Sound aerospace job accounts for about four more local jobs. A new 787 production line in South Carolina would open the possibility of future generations of the 737 and 777 being built elsewhere. And with them would go the main underpinning of our region’s economy.

Washington is in a national competition to keep its aerospace industry, and Boeing’s expanded presence in South Carolina is a reminder that it’s a battle we could lose.

Our leaders must act accordingly. Now is the time for action on what the industry needs to thrive here: serious work to bring business costs here in line with other states, and a meaningful, targeted investment in maintaining the world’s best-trained aerospace workforce.

When Boeing shopped around for a site to build the 787 back in 2003, state lawmakers, Gov. Gary Locke, and wise union leaders coalesced around a package of tax incentives and other cost savings that convinced Boeing to assemble the Dreamliner in Everett. That same sense of urgency is needed now.

With it, we can ensure a bright economic future here, with a growing manufacturing base supplying good-paying jobs for generations to come.

The alternative isn’t an option.

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