Washington State is showing signs of some real life in a slow ramp up to gain new aerospace business.
For years, nay, for decades, state politicians took Boeing for granted. Boeing officials complained and complained and complained about the need for better education, for smoother permitting processes, an onerous business climate and more. Officials warned over and over that they might move operations out of the state if things didn’t change.
When Boeing decided to move its corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago–with no notice to state officials it was even contemplating a move–politicians were shocked and called it a wake-up call.
Nothing happened. Officials hit the snooze button, turned over and went back to sleep.
Then Boeing held a competition in 2003 over where to assemble the 7E7 (later officially named the 787). Then-Gov. Gary Locke and the Legislature scrambled and ponied up $3.2bn in tax breaks over 20 years. It was another wake-up call.
After winning the assembly site for the Everett plant, officials hit the snooze button again.
Christine Gregoire was elected governor in 2004 (Locke retired after two terms), went to the Paris Air Show in 2005 and then didn’t go to Europe for aerospace until after being criticized in April 2009 for being a no-show for Washington’s aerospace. The state’s Department of Commerce, with little money made available to it in the Gregoire budgets, had embarrassingly small booths at the shows, especially compared with the pro-active Southern States.
Gregoire by executive order created the Washington Aerospace Council when the Legislature–controlled by her own political party no less–refused to authorize it. But WAC was largely a do-nothing group that more or less simply talked to itself.
Then Boeing located 787 line 2 assembly in Charleston, another wake-up call. And once more, the snooze button was hit.
Then Boeing said the 737 MAX might not be built here in Washington, and another task force was created to win this business. In the end, a deal between the IAM 751 union and Boeing had more to do with keeping the MAX assembly here (though we question whether there was any serious prospect of it going elsewhere), but once more the state responded with an ad hoc action rather than a strategy.
Gregoire, in her final year in office (2012), finally created the Governor’s Office of Aerospace–something that she should have done years before, and in truth, something Locke should have done during his eight years in office.
WAC was dissolved and the Washington Aerospace Partnership was created instead–but as we have noted previously, there isn’t a single representative from industry on WAP, an inexplicable omission.
Then in a budget standoff in the Legislature between the Democratically-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate, the Republican budget inexplicably deleted funding for the Governor’s Office of Aerospace–and this was followed by Republican Sen. Mike Hewitt complaining the state wasn’t doing enough to support aerospace. (Funding survived, finally, in the budget that ultimately was approved.)
Washington had a large presence at this year’s Paris Air Show, both in the booths and in state officials representing the state seeking new business. And Gov. Jay Inslee, Gregoire’s successor, after a Gregoire me-too “program” announced in May to “win” the assembly site for the 777X, last week announced plans to use a law passed in 1997 but never implemented to declare the 777X a project of statewide significance that will allow almost instantaneous permitting.
This is the kind of innovative thinking that’s needed out of the Governor’s office, and raises the obvious question: why didn’t Locke and Gregoire use this law before to make things easier for Boeing?
The director of the Governor’s Office of Aerospace, Alex Pietsch, also revealed last week (in the Seattle Times article linked above, at the bottom) that two consultancies have been retained through WAP (on which he sits) to identify incentives and other things that need to be done to help Washington aerospace.
Because there have been several previous studies on competitiveness, we asked Pietsch what is expected from these new studies that haven’t already been discussed. Pietsch replied:
One is for an economic benefit analysis of the aerospace industry in Washington. This analysis hasn’t been performed since 2008 and will help us demonstrate the value of any potential additional investments necessary to win the 777X.
The second is analysis of Washington’s competitive position for the 777X. It will build off the work that was done in 2011, but look back at all of the State’s investments in support of aerospace since Project Olympus (the 787 effort in 2003) and make recommendations about what may be needed to win design and final assembly of the 777X, fabrication of its wing, and to maximize opportunities throughout the supply chain for the State of Washington.
Both studies are expected to be complete by the end of September.
tomorrow Thursday, the Department of Commerce and the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance are holding the state’s first Airbus supplier forum. Forty percent of the suppliers surveyed by the state supply Airbus, and the state aims to increase this.
Inslee, in office only since January, clearly is far more attuned to aerospace than either Locke or Gregoire were. He initially offered a weak plan to win the 777X but he, along with Commerce, is picking up steam.
It’s about time. Washington has been hitting the snooze button for decades. It’s long overdue to wake up and get out of bed.