Washington state should make it a top priority to persuade Boeing to build its next airplane in the Puget Sound region. There is no time to waste.
Washington state and the aerospace industry are eagerly awaiting Boeing’s decision on whether to build a new midmarket plane that some have dubbed the 797.
The region’s leaders should not wait, however, to begin a full-court press to be sure that plane is built in the Puget Sound area.
If built, the plane could enter service around 2024 and provide thousands of family-wage jobs for decades.
Despite job reductions and the dispersion of work to other states in recent years, Boeing continues to anchor an aerospace cluster employing 130,000 at 1,400 establishments across the state.
Washingtonians are deeply invested in supporting Boeing and its new generation of fuel-efficient planes. Tax preferences extending to 2040 helped secure the Everett production of Boeing’s upcoming 777X and facilities to build its carbon-fiber composite wing.
Details of the midmarket plane aren’t final, but it would incorporate 777X and 787 advances in composite materials and control systems. In size, it would be between the 737 and 787.
Innovations with the 797 are likely to include further advances in manufacturing technology and support services that Boeing provides to buyers.
Much of that involves complex software systems, giving Boeing’s birthplace an advantage. Every major tech company has a presence in Seattle to take advantage of deep expertise building large-scale systems and services.
State and local officials must be pre-emptive, not reactive, and anticipate what’s needed to retain and grow key employers. This was the lesson of Amazon’s abrupt decision to build a second headquarters elsewhere.
An aerospace industry consortium is working with state officials to land the plane. They’re forming a coalition early next year to make a pitch to Boeing. It will include labor, industry and government.
This should be expedited and elevated, with high-profile support from Gov. Jay Inslee and other leaders.
Inslee met recently with Boeing leadership and the state Department of Commerce plans to step up its 797 campaign early next year.
Backstage preparation is good, but the sense of urgency isn’t clear to the broader community. Inslee’s aerospace web page is woefully outdated, with links to sites that no longer exist. The state’s aerospace liaison recently resigned, and Commerce is strained after $2 million was cut from its $16 million biennial budget.
Still, there is no time to lose. The short 2018 legislative session is just five weeks away, leaving little time to act on any requests by a coalition yet to be formed.
One opportunity may be providing new workforce-training. Potential 797 work should be factored into efforts to boost internships, technical schools and community colleges.
The state previously invested in training for composite-materials careers. More can be done to prepare students for opportunities in advanced manufacturing, including robotics.
State Rep. Drew Hansen, chair of the House higher-education committee, said legislators can move quickly when there’s agreement on urgent needs such as training and credentialing.
“We support helping people get the training they need so they can get a decent job to support their family,” he said.
Much is at stake.
Boeing’s decision on where to design and build the first new plane developed during its second century has major implications for Washington’s future as a leading manufacturer and exporter.
Reminding Boeing that this continues to be the smartest and most lucrative place to build next-generation products and services must be a top priority for Washington’s leadership.