Local economic development leaders to pursue Boeing suppliers

By Aaron Corvin and Cami Joner

Published:

Updated: January 19, 2012, 9:27 PM

 
photoLisa Nisenfeld
photoPaul Dennis

Clark County economic development leaders said Thursday they’re working to make Boeing Co. a bigger presence in the region by recruiting its suppliers and by expanding existing ­companies that help equip the aerospace giant.

Lisa Nisenfeld, president and CEO of the Vancouver-based Columbia River Economic Development Council, said a task force has been formed to spearhead the effort.

Area leaders are working with the city of Gresham, Ore. — where Boeing has a parts facility — along with Cowlitz County and Greater Portland Inc., a private sector-led business promoter of the Portland-Vancouver area, she said.

With Boeing planning for significant growth, Nisenfeld said, “we think there’s enough for ­everybody here.”

Nisenfeld delivered her remarks during a luncheon held by the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce and attended by more than 60 people. She was joined by Paul Dennis, former mayor of Camas and now president and CEO of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, who talked about his efforts to grow the economy in east Clark County.

Regional leaders’ focus on ­Boeing comes as the company makes plans to boost production in the Puget Sound region, and as Boeing executives have publicly acknowledged hiccups in the company’s global outsourcing network and their intentions to do more work in-house.

Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, is Washington’s largest employer and, along with Microsoft Corp., a longtime anchor of the state’s economy.

Wichita targeted

Nisenfeld said plans to beef up Boeing’s supply chain here include recruiting suppliers of the company from Wichita, Kan., where the company will close its defense plant by the end of 2013. Nisenfeld said recruiting from Wichita also would involve wooing former Boeing workers there to our region.

Boeing’s facility in Wichita — a campus of 97 buildings — takes up more than 2 million square feet and currently employs more than 2,160 people, according to the Associated Press. It’s the base for the company’s Global Transport and Executive Systems business and its B-52 and 767 International Tanker programs. It also supports flight mission planning and integrated logistics.

At first, Boeing indicated those jobs would be picked up at its Renton-area plant. Later reports said the move would bring only 100 jobs to the Puget Sound region. A large number of jobs are expected to land in Oklahoma City (about 800) and San Antonio (between 300 and 400 jobs).

Boeing and its Machinists Union struck a deal last month that extends the current Machinists contract to September 2016. In that period, according to The Seattle Times, Boeing plans to build jets at unprecedented rates. Moreover, the deal commits Boeing to build the new version of its single-aisle jet due to enter service in 2017 — the 737 MAX — in Renton, according to The Seattle Times.

And a study commissioned by Gov. Chris Gregoire estimated that 8,000 direct jobs and another 12,000 indirect jobs in Washington state were at stake with the MAX decision, as well as $500 million a year in tax revenue, The Seattle­ Times reported.

Some local manufacturers welcomed the news Thursday that area economic development leaders are trying to hook onto Boeing’s expansion plans. Others reacted with caution. Industrial land brokers, meanwhile, assessed the potential for Boeing-connected­ jobs to sprout in the region.

“I’m sure there are tons of companies here that might supply to them (Boeing),” said John Rudi, president of Vancouver-based welding and steel fabrication company Thompson Metal Fab Inc.

Rudi’s company has benefitted when Boeing made previous upgrades to its Gresham plant.

“They’re going to retool their line and make equipment changes,” Rudi said. “Those are the types of things that bring work to our area.”

If Boeing increases production in Washington, its suppliers would want to be nearby, said Rick Goode, president and CEO of Vancouver-based Columbia Machine.

“The (Columbia River Economic Development Council) is saying we should make that a priority,” said Goode, who serves on the board of the CREDC, a nonprofit with more than 120 members from the public and private sectors.

Columbia Machine is not a Boeing supplier, Goode said.

He said drawing suppliers here would be OK as long as those companies didn’t pilfer Columbia Machine’s workforce of trained machinists. The company supplies concrete products-making machinery and systems.

“One of the concerns would be whether we have the available workforce,” he said, adding that the area could use more vocational programs at area high schools and Clark College. “We are worried about a shortage.”

Vancouver-based industrial real estate broker Bill Connelly said he couldn’t think of any existing Clark County companies that supply parts or services to Boeing.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t software companies or engineering companies here that are doing the work,” said Connelly, a commercial real estate broker with Eric Fuller & Associates Inc.

Connelly also mentioned the local presence of Insitu Inc., a Boeing subsidiary and unmanned aircraft maker based in Bingen with one of its offices in east Vancouver.

Insitu employs about 800 people making drones for military and surveillance operations, and in December announced plans to expand its production and testing operations in Bingen.

Aggressive effort

The recruitment effort Nisenfeld made public during Thursday’s chamber event suggests a more aggressive, coordinated effort to grab a piece of Boeing than the region has seen in recent history.

Nisenfeld said area leaders are working with existing Boeing suppliers to explore growth opportunities in the region. Likewise, she said, they’re also examining how to quicken the process companies use to become certified suppliers to the aerospace giant.

During Wednesday night’s Clark County Pub Talk — a business networking event — Nisenfeld said she met and spoke with a company that already supplies Boeing. She did not name the business. It’s the kind of company that area officials want to see grow under the effort to expand Boeing’s footprint in the region, Nisenfeld said.