What’s rolling around inside the governor’s head about Boeing

May 19, 2013 

The interior monologue of Gov. Jay Inslee, just prior to his recent speech outlining his plan to convince Boeing to retain commercial airplane production in Washington state:

Why am I here? Who are we kidding? Is anyone buying this?

No, of course they’re not. They’re not stupid. They know what’s going on.

Do I buy it? I’ll never say publicly. I didn’t get where I am by telling people what they see but don’t want to hear.

But because I’m governor, because I ran on a platform of jobs and how we’re a leader in aerospace and technology, I’ve got to stand up here and present my aerospace plan for landing the 777X and tell everyone we’re going to make this “the best place to build the best airplanes and preserve thousands of family-wage jobs for generations to come.”

Yeesh. Thousands? As in the thousand-plus-500 of IT jobs that Boeing is eliminating or shipping out of state? As in the 2,000 jobs that Boeing has said it’s going to add in South Carolina in the next two years? Hmm, wonder where else those jobs could have gone? Everett, maybe?

Not that it matters for this speech. I’ll get the usual nodding heads and polite applause. And Boeing will make polite noises about Everett being an “attractive” place to operate – then go see what else they can squeeze out of South Carolina.

Well, what am I supposed to do — admit defeat now? That wouldn’t look very gubernatorial. Can’t give a thumbs-up salute to the press photographers as I announce Boeing is packing up more work and more jobs.

And whatever else, I do not intend to go down in state history as The Governor Who Lost Boeing.

Let Gary Locke wear that one for a while. It was on his watch that the headquarters bolted to Chicago. Or my esteemed immediate predecessor, let her try it on for size. One thing to let the suits leave, but it was during her tenure that Boeing opened a second commercial-airplane production plant.

Geez Louise, you’d think Boeing would be thanking us and seeing what it can do for us. Yeah, sure, there was all that labor unpleasantness. But we weren’t the geniuses who mucked up the 787 program to the point it may never earn them a nickel. We are, however, making it possible to keep the 737s rolling out at higher production rates. Where’s the gratitude for that?

Instead, I’ve got to pretend that a couple of community college programs and a pledge that we won’t make them fill out so much paperwork is going to keep Boeing here. Sure, that’ll work, especially when South Carolina is writing checks with lots of zeros on them.

The weird thing is – I might just pull this one off. The 777X, that is. We’re talking about a plane that’s already made there, and a company that can’t afford the reputational hit of another program going sideways like the 787 did.

So they might just take the path of least resistance and put the 777X in Everett, and then we can all celebrate and tell ourselves how important to Boeing we are, and how great we are in keeping something we already had, and then go home and wait for the next surprise. Like a third production plant somewhere else, like Texas or China. Or a split of 737 Max production with South Carolina. Or a new model of jet that isn’t made anywhere in Washington. Or moving the headquarters of the commercial-planes division.

But maybe a small victory will be enough to preserve my career. Gary Locke managed to land a cabinet secretary position and an ambassadorship, so it didn’t seem to hurt him too much. Gregoire hasn’t gotten squat out of the Obamas yet, but I’ll bet there’s some openings coming up soon at IRS. Maybe she can lobby for one of those jobs. As for me, voters in King County will still put an X in front of any name with (D) after it, and these days that’s about all I’ll need to win a second term.

Even so, I’d really like to claim even a small victory, because it’s not looking like we’re going to get a big win out of Boeing in the future. It won’t be one cataclysmic announcement, one giant “Moving Sale! Everything Must Go!” sign on the side of the Everett and Renton plants. It’ll be death of regional aerospace by a thousand little job cuts and operational moves.

And we need to hold on to what we’ve got, because I can’t count on that whole green-economy thing to save us, thanks to cheap natural gas – which, by the way, this state doesn’t produce any of.

Oh well, I keep hearing good things about an emerging craft distilled-spirits industry, following the development paths in Washington for wineries and craft beer.

That’s good news for the state’s economy, and for me. If I have to keep giving this speech, and pretend it’s going to make any difference, I’m going to need a lot of fortification.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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