Thirty years ago, when Renton was far more of a Boeing town, the shutdown of the company’s assembly lines would have had a significant and swift impact on its residents and economy.
But on Monday, after Boeing announced it was temporarily halting production of the 737 MAX, city leaders and business owners were considering what, if any, effect the January 2020 shutdown would have on the city that’s long been connected to the company.
“Is Renton a Boeing town? We still really are,” said Randy Corman, a Renton city councilmember and retired Boeing manager. “[The shutdown’s impact] is not the kind of impact we would have had 20 years ago or 30 years ago, but Boeing is still a big part of our employment base, and for the people directly impacted, it’s huge.”
Those directly impacted include the 12,000 Renton employees — Boeing said many will be moved to other facilities throughout the region — and local businesses whose customers are primarily Boeing workers.
For decades, Boeing was the backbone of Renton’s economy, though that’s become less so as the population has grown and the number of Boeing jobs has shrunk. The economy has also diversified. The Landing, a large outdoor shopping plaza with a Target, movie theater and chain restaurants, was built across from the manufacturing plant.
“There’s a lot more to Renton than just one industry,” City of Renton spokeswoman Preeti Shridhar said. “But we want to see Boeing healthy. That’s good for all of us.”
Still, news of the shutdown hit locally owned businesses hard.
At Sub Shop #8, owner Kiet Lei said the lunch spot could lose about 50% of its customers. For the past few months, he’s heard from patrons who talked about being redeployed to Moses Lake and Everett. They were concerned about the moves and whether they would be laid off, he said. Many are longtime customers — the younger Boeing workers generally go to The Landing, he added.
“We’re lucky, because we own the building, and my family comes to help keep costs down,” he said. “We’re trying to save some money, because we don’t know what will happen in the next few months.”
Torero’s, a Mexican restaurant at The Landing, may have to downsize or find other ways to cut costs, said assistant manager Adrian Rodriguez. About 90% of its lunch customers are Boeing employees and 65% of its dinner customers work at the facility. The restaurant may also try more marketing to attract non-Boeing customers, he added.
Employees at The Hop Garden restaurant started noticing a decrease in customers as production slowed down and rumors flew about Boeing layoffs, according to manager Kristen Fisher. The number of customers has been cut in half, she said, and all the surrounding businesses have reported similar figures.
“We suspect it’s going to impact the community in a huge way,” she said. “It always does.”
Even with the temporary production halt, Corman says Renton’s identity remains tied to Boeing. He’s been fielding the same question for months: How do Renton citizens feel about Boeing now?
Renton, he says, is still behind Boeing.
“The community would do anything to help get the 737 MAX back in service safely and to restore the normal rhythm,” he said. “Boeing’s future is tied to Renton’s future, and vice versa. We need them back.”