Alabama officials are in Seattle this week to develop relationships with aerospace suppliers here. So are representatives from South Carolina. And a top Airbus executive came to tell local suppliers he’s eager to bring work to Washington state.
As economic development officials in Washington state grow nervous over the migration of Boeing work to the Southeastern states, and worry specifically about where Boeing will build the forthcoming 777X, the annual aerospace conference of the British-American Business Council offered out-of-state perspectives.
In late 2015, Airbus is scheduled to deliver its first U.S.-built commercial airplane out of a new final assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., a nascent commercial jet assembly center that will compete with the Pacific Northwest’s.
Greg Canfield, Secretary of Commerce for the state of Alabama, spoke of the enthusiasm that has generated in his region, contrasting it with his take on Washington’s attitude to Boeing.
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“Because of the proximity and tradition you have here with Boeing, I don’t want to say you take them for granted, but there’s not a lot of wonder and newness about Boeing (in Washington), because they’ve been part of this landscape so long,” said Canfield. “Airbus has never had a (commercial jet) manufacturing presence. … This is new to them and new to us. When things are new, you get excited.”
Canfield told the audience of Pacific Northwest aerospace suppliers of the opportunities ahead “to perhaps expand in Alabama as (Airbus) production expands over time.”
“This is a long-term effort on our part to develop relationships and a greater understanding of suppliers here,” Canfield said, in an interview on the edges of the conference, held Tuesday at the Museum of Flight.
At least one local company, Aviation Technical Services (ATS) of Everett — which is expanding in Moses Lake and looking to open a new site in Spokane — is also actively looking for a site in the Southeast to expand its aircraft maintenance and repair business and service jets flying on the East Coast.
Canfield, typical of state economic development officials, declined to discuss any specific targets he’s cultivating. And when asked if he is making any pitch to Boeing for 777X work, he only smiled broadly.
Hank Taylor, a former Air Force general who is now vice president of global business development at the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, echoed Canfield’s remarks as he envisaged the anticipated growth of Boeing in South Carolina.
Earlier in the day, Barry Eccleston, chief executive of Airbus Americas, had a brief courtesy meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee at the conference, then told local suppliers that Airbus wants to tap this region’s skills.
“The Pacific Northwest is one of the world’s great assembly and supplier centers” for aerospace, Eccleston said. “One way or another, we want to move into this area and capitalize on the expertise and the high-quality products.”
But Airbus growth here will be a company-by-company, contract-by-contract process.
On the other hand, Canfield said he expects aerospace to grow dramatically in his state when Airbus is up and running, in the same way the automotive industry has done. Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai have all located auto assembly plants there and all of them have expanded those plants multiple times over the years.
“We fully expect the Airbus experience will be the same,” said Canfield. “That’s our goal, to make that their experience.”
Boeing’s only speaker at the conference may have added to the local industry’s anxiety about holding on to what it has.
Jenette Ramos, vice president in charge of supply chain management, answered a question on location of work by saying the company needs to be “very thoughtful” about where it places work — close to its assembly facilities, or elsewhere.
“That includes engineering,” said Ramos, “Engineering being proximate; or engineering being in India. It depends on the complexity of the work.”
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org