Glowing praise of the Puget Sound region by Boeing’s chief executive is reassuring as the state of Washington seeks to land production of the company’s next jetliner.
“Puget Sound is part of Boeing for the future in a very strong way,” Dennis Muilenburg said in an interview with Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates.
But the region and state must continue working hard to convince the company that its hometown remains the best place in the world to manufacture its next plane, informally dubbed the 797.
A task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee last year is making progress and preparing to submit a bid if there’s a formal request for site proposals later this year. Regional groups in areas such as Snohomish County and Spokane also are making their case. This is a critical effort to retain and grow an industry that’s a cornerstone of the state’s economy.
While Muilenburg didn’t tip his hand on the 797, which Boeing hasn’t yet committed to build, he did drop hints about where Washington can improve its competitiveness. One is the cost of living and doing business in Seattle, which are “higher than most of our other sites,” he said.
This is an issue for most businesses and residents. As a global city and home to leading companies, Seattle is unlikely to ever again be an inexpensive place to live and work. At the same time, the region continues to offer a high quality of life at a range of price points.
Growth is a challenge, but it’s also a testament to the region’s ability to continue attracting top talent. It also attests to the region’s tremendous value as a place to build next-generation products and services.
The task force could highlight that many billions are being invested in transit, roads and housing to alleviate the crunch and create options to live and work throughout the region.
Boeing is unlikely to receive another huge tax incentive package, and so far it hasn’t indicated that’s required, according to state Commerce Secretary Brian Bonlender. Perhaps that’s because the 797 program would benefit from the package of Boeing incentives the state authorized in 2013, initially valued at $8.7 billion. That extended tax breaks through 2040 and secured the development of the 777X, including a composite-wing production center in Everett that’s likely to be used for the 797.
Muilenburg also said the state should emphasize workforce training to have “employment-ready talent coming in.”
This is another area where the task force has good evidence to present. The Legislature increased education funding from $13.4 billion in the 2011-2013 biennium to $26.6 billion in the 2019-2021 biennium. That substantial investment will benefit Washington’s work force and its attractiveness as a place to build careers and families.
Recent education investments include a new emphasis on apprenticeship and career-education programs. Business and government leaders are in the process of updating the state’s career-readiness programs, inspired in part by Swiss programs that combine classroom training with internships at companies such as GE Aviation.
Really, though, this is all frosting on the cake. The best argument to build the 797 here is probably Boeing itself.
The company will decide where to build its next plane as its people and facilities in the Puget Sound region reach tremendous milestones, including completion of the first flying 777X in Everett and 737 production in Renton increasing to 52 planes per month.
Past performance is an excellent indicator of future success, and Washington is making smart investments to ensure its workers, Boeing and other companies do even better in the future.