The reckoning feared from Boeing’s 2009 decision to build planes in South Carolina may be only weeks away.
Respected industry experts think Boeing’s potential consolidation of 787 Dreamliner production lines because of slow sales would likely happen at the company’s site in South Carolina — not Everett.
This outcome would be extremely harmful to Puget Sound’s economy. The Everett plant provides 30,000 jobs. About 10,000 more area workers are employed by Boeing suppliers.
Gov. Jay Inslee should not let this line slip out of state on his watch. His effort has been hard to discern. A spokesperson said Inslee has spoken with Boeing Commercial CEO Stan Deal, and that he and state Commerce Department leaders are having “active and ongoing discussions” with Boeing executives.
The available arsenal to retain the 787 line appears limited, local and federal officials said. The World Trade Organization ruled against the state’s tax incentive package.
“There’s not a lot of actions we can take to sway the decision,” U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett and chair of the Aviation Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, told a Times reporter.
Win or lose the 787 battle, Washington’s leaders must strengthen the region’s vast aerospace assets to last decades. That means creating a stronger college pipeline for high-tech roles at Boeing. About half the membership of Boeing’s engineers and technicians union is 50 or older, aviation-industry expert Scott Hamilton observed. “The brain drain is already underway, and what’s the state done about that?” Hamilton said.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Boeing’s reputation and finances were in trouble because of the 737 MAX disaster. The pandemic has taken the economic troubles industrywide. Eventually, the market will rebound, but Boeing’s top-shelf safety reputation still must be fully repaired. The direct route to that is by going all-in on quality and bringing production home to Puget Sound.
The South Carolina site can build the largest planes in the 787 line. Its wages are cheaper, and its employees are nonunion. However, South Carolina cannot match the industrial and engineering history that form a shared DNA for Boeing and the Seattle region.
Production quality at the North Charleston plant has been spotty compared with Everett. “I think we can make a case that we just really have the talent here to make sure that the planes that come out are top-notch and high-quality,” Snohomish County Executive David Somers said. “I know our labor is a bit more expensive, but you get what you pay for.”
For Boeing and Washington to have a future, the relationship needs strengthening. The region’s primacy as an aerospace hub requires attention to infrastructure, from educating the workforce to encouraging supplier network businesses.