Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner disputes Donald Trump’s assertions that the company’s jobs will go to China. Also: Starbucks’ new video series, called “Upstanders,” likely won’t be its last foray into original content; and Amazon’s Alexa talks about Safeco insurance.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has declared while campaigning that Boeing will move American jobs to China, emptying U.S. plants.
“China is making them build a massive airline facility, right? Massive, like bigger than anything you’ve seen. You feel good about Boeing right now? Tell me in five years … All of a sudden you’re gonna be reading a big front-page story, all over the place, that Boeing is going to leave South Carolina, they’re going to make all their planes in China. Because that’s what they do,” he told a Walterboro, S.C., crowd earlier this year.
Boeing hasn’t challenged him on this publicly before, but this past week Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner initiated a phone interview specifically to declare emphatically this is not true.
Conner said, “Trump has made an issue about our involvement with the Chinese assembly center, saying we’ll move all these jobs to China.”
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That’s not the case, Conner insisted. The Chinese center, announced a year ago when Chinese President Xi was in town, is “our largest opportunity for sales, creating an expanded relationship, but it will also create more jobs here. It’s lopsided on what we get and give — we get more. It’s being portrayed as the opposite.”
The 737s sold to Chinese airlines will continue to be assembled in the Puget Sound region, then flown to China, where they will be painted and have the interior installed. The deal, Conner said, actually protects Boeing by limiting intellectual-property transfer.
More than 70 percent of Boeing’s commercial-jet deliveries are outside the United States. China needs an estimated 6,000 airliners over the next 20 years. In addition to competition from Airbus, Boeing faces the certainty that China will field an indigenous commercial airliner, too.
The finishing center keeps Boeing solidly in the game. Aerospace altogether generates 1.5 million American jobs and is the bedrock of many small companies.
Conner is also concerned about the general anti-trade rhetoric of the election. For example, both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“Some people do get impacted by trade agreements, no question. In general, these create more opportunity. The right controls need to be in place to protect American workers. But these agreements aren’t as bad as being portrayed,” Conner said in the interview.
“We … need to be cognizant how important trade is to this region,” he said. “Boeing for sure, but this region. People need to take time to educate themselves. It sounds good to take it back to a time when life seemed better. But the world will not sit still.
“We need to make the best agreements possible. But to shut our doors to the rest of the world would be a real problem.”
— Jon Talton: firstname.lastname@example.org
Starbucks’ series a bid to inspire
Starbucks’ first foray into creating original content — a series of videos, podcasts and stories it calls “Upstanders”, highlighting ordinary Americans doing inspirational things — likely won’t be its last.
Certainly, the series is meant to be uplifting, providing examples of things people could do to better their communities. And it falls in line with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s ruminations about the role of corporations in public life.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve been asking: What is the role and responsibility of a public company?” Schultz said during a screening of “Upstanders” Monday night at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian.
That role, he believes, is not just to make money but also to “elevate discourse, provide a significant understanding that we, as a corporation, as private citizens, need to do more to advance the cause of social impact in our communities.”
But that’s not to say there isn’t also a bottom-line reason the company is getting into creating original content.
“For any consumer brand, especially a brick-and-mortar retailer like Starbucks, the rules of engagement, because of Amazon and mobile commerce, are really changing,” Schultz said.
Companies such as Starbucks now have to create “something really experiential” in the stores, he said — like the Roasteries that Starbucks has opened as a multisensory showcase for its higher-end beans and drinks.
But companies also have to enhance the emotional connection with consumers even outside the stores, and extend the relevancy of their brands, Schultz said.
“We’re never going to become a media company,” he said. “But we can extend the brand and the experience through media and original content.”
He envisions people viewing such content via the Starbucks app on their smartphones, an important business tool for the company. Currently, a quarter of all transactions are conducted through the company’s mobile app.
Others have recognized the reach of Starbucks’ mobile app, with the company being approached to put movie trailers on it, for instance.
But Schultz said it was important to him to “leverage our scale for good and do something around original content — and not to do that in a commercial way.”
For instance, the Upstanders series of 10 minidocumentary films, each five to six minutes long, does not promote Starbucks products.
The series is written and produced by Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Starbucks executive producer and a former senior editor of The Washington Post. The series debuted last week and can be viewed online, through the Starbucks mobile app, and via the company’s in-store digital network.
The series showcases people such as a church pastor who reached out to local Muslims building an Islamic center nearby; a former NFL player who started a workout group for wounded veterans; and townspeople who banded together to raise money for college scholarships for every student in town.
Also featured in the series are two people who attended the showing at the Egyptian: Sue Rahr, director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission and former King County sheriff, who’s working on changing the way police officers are trained; and Susan Burton, who spent years in prison and is now helping keep other female ex-convicts from returning to prison by providing them with a place to live.
At Monday’s screening, Burton’s daughter, who also attended, said it would soon be her birthday and that the film about her mother was “the best birthday present.” It had been a long road, she said, getting to where she could believe in her mother again.
Burton, in reply, said that she couldn’t get back years of going in and out of prison but that, through her work, she could help others get their sons and daughters back — and that through that work, “I got my daughter back.”
— Janet I. Tu: email@example.com
Alexa, can we talk about insurance?
Nobody wants to talk about insurance. But Safeco Insurance is betting that doing so through Alexa, Amazon’s voice-powered artificial-intelligence concierge, will make the conversation smoother.
Seattle-based Safeco has released a new Alexa app dubbed the “Insurance Advisor.” It won’t talk you through a roof replacement or any other crisis, but it can explain insurance’s often jargony terms, or find a local independent agent for those interested in specific kinds of policies.
“We know insurance is a complicated, confusing space,” said Samuel Affolter, who heads Safeco’s research and innovation efforts. “This provides an easy way for consumers to get that type of information about insurance.”
Safeco’s arrival on the Echo, the voice-powered Amazon speaker that uses Alexa, illustrates how Amazon’s decision to make Alexa an open platform for third-party developers is paying off in the rapid proliferation of apps.
This past week Amazon.com reported that the number of Alexa apps, or “skills,” has tripled to about 3,000 since June. New apps being launched include a Twitter reader, and a GE appliances “skill” to control kitchen appliances.
“Today there are tens of thousands of developers building Alexa skills,” the company said in a news release.
“The fact that they open-sourced their (software development kit) is the reason we were able to do what we’ve done with Alexa,” Affolter said in an interview. “It they hadn’t done that, it’d be the same as Google Now or Siri,” platforms that also interact with the human voice but until recently were tightly controlled. (Apple in June said it would allow third-party developers to tap into Siri’s voice abilities, something Google did in March, according to news reports.)
Safeco’s app, which took about three months to develop, also showcases both the promise and the limitations of the Alexa platform, which animates the Echo speaker and other devices, including a recently launched tablet.
The interface — the human voice — is naturally inviting; Liberty Mutual, Safeco’s parent company, makes much of a Gartner study that predicts that 30 percent of interactions between users and computers will be through the voice by 2018.
But actions initiated by voice commands remain in the realm of the relatively straightforward: hail an Uber, order a pizza, play some music, query information.
In the case of Safeco’s app, the voice interaction replaces the act of pulling a phone out of a pocket and typing an insurance question into a web browser. The high-stakes matters of opening a claim or selling an insurance product seem at this point to be well beyond Alexa’s skills.
“Those independent agents can do a lot for them, probably better than anything we can do within the virtual assistant,” Affolter said.
Liberty Mutual, based in Boston, is also working on its Alexa app, which it promises to release in the fall. It is expected to give what Liberty calls “actionable advice” on typical home and auto concerns, and take the complexity up a notch by providing a car insurance estimate.
Affolter said Safeco is already working on finding new Alexa-borne solutions not only for general insurance inquiries, but for more specific questions from its customers.
“I think there’s a ton of opportunity there,” he said.
— Ángel González: firstname.lastname@example.org