Inslee’s aerospace plan: Land the 777X

  • By Michelle Dunlop and Chuck Taylor Herald Writers
  • Thursday, May 9, 2013 5:49pm

MUKILTEO — Gov. Jay Inslee announced an aerospace strategy May 9 that aims to convince the Boeing Co. to design and build the 777X in Washington.

“We need to prove hands down (Washington) is the place to build this airplane,” Inslee said.

Inslee’s plan is aimed not only at swaying Boeing’s 777X decision but also at shaping the state aerospace industry for decades to come. If successful, the initiative would boost 1,250 aerospace-related companies in the state that are suppliers to Boeing, the governor said.

The 777X is the code name for the next generation of Boeing’s hot-selling, Everett-built 777, the company’s second-biggest jetliner. Boeing has not formally launched the 777X program, but customers are being signed and the updated plane is seen as strategically crucial to counter the comparable Airbus A350-1000, which is in development. Boeing has said it is agnostic, for now, as to where the 777X might be designed and assembled.

At an event at the Future of Flight Aviation Center here adjacent to Paine Field and near the Boeing factory, Inslee outlined steps to make Washington more attractive to aerospace companies, including:

  • Expanding workforce training programs in high–demand fields.
  • Increasing the number of degreed engineers graduated by state universities.
  • Funding transportation and port improvements.
  • Working with local governments to ensure streamlined permitting.
  • Fostering better relationships between labor unions and management.
  • Assessing the economic impact of the state aerospace industry to prove its importance and justify the investments.

The aerospace effort is being coordinated by Alex Pietsch, director of the governor’s Office of Aerospace. The governor’s plan comes with the backing of the Washington Aerospace Partnership, a consortium of state and local governments and industry representatives led by former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel.

“Designing and assembling the next generation of Boeing’s twin-aisle, twin-engine workhorse in Washington will mean that our engineers and machinists are on the cutting edge of the commercial aviation industry for decades to come,” Drewel said in a news release.

Washington’s aerospace industry is the envy of the nation, said Maud Daudon, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Aerospace Partnership. That’s why it’s important the state send Boeing and the aerospace industry the right message.

“Everybody wants these jobs,” she said. “Our competition is watching.”

Of late, the state’s biggest domestic rival has been South Carolina, where Boeing added a second 787 final-assembly line in recent years. That state’s legislature approved $120 million in incentives this month in exchange for a pledge from Boeing for $1 billion in investment and 2,000 new jobs over the next eight years.

Inslee’s plan doesn’t dangle tax incentives like South Carolina’s, though Washington gave up more $3.2 billion in incentives to land the original 787 assembly line in 2003. But Boeing hasn’t indicated it needs specific incentives like that, the governor said. Instead, he believes, the transportation and education initiatives before the Legislature will be key to winning the 777X.

The Legislature has an opportunity to make a significant down payment in many of those areas, Inslee said. Lawmakers begin a special legislative session in Olympia on Monday.

Representing Snohomish County governments, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson joined the governor in unveiling the plan. Stephanson will quarterback the effort to streamline any permits Boeing would need for 777X work. County Executive Aaron Reardon, who has said he will resign this month, did not attend the governor’s announcement.

“The City of Everett has been anticipating the 777X for more than a year,” Stephanson said in prepared remarks.

Later, Stephanson noted that city planners have identified a variety of locations on Boeing’s property for expansion, should that be necessary to handle fabrication of the 777X’s composite wing, for example.

Of Inslee’s overall plan for the 777X, Stephanson believes the governor is moving in the right direction.

“If we were on the wrong path, I believe Boeing leaders would say,” Stephanson said.

Melanie Jordan, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance, noted that Washington is competing globally as well as domestically for aerospace work. The alliance represents hundreds of aerospace companies in the region. The organization “is really heartened” by the creation of a long-term plan for aerospace in Washington, she said.

Inslee highlighted the right elements for going forward, said Troy McClelland, president of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Some aspects of the governor’s plan are well-defined while others will need fine-tuning, he said.

Overall, “I think our community is well-positioned” to win the 777X, he said.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454;

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