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State’s pitch to Boeing offers nothing new

Post by Kim Bradford on Sep. 29, 2009 at 8:14 pm with No Comments »
September 29, 2009 8:14 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

The state’s new report trumpeting Washington’s aerospace advantages reads as if it were written by people convinced the competition for Boeing’s second 787 assembly line is either in the bag or out of hand.

Here’s hoping for the former. Washington workers and businesses can ill afford to lose this opportunity.

Gov. Chris Gregoire presented the report to Jim Albaugh, the new head of Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes Group, last week. The company is due to make a decision by the end of the year about where to place the second 787 line. The prevailing wisdom is that Washington’s prospects for landing it are grim and growing grimmer every day.

Machinists in Washington’s closest competitor, South Carolina, just voted to decertify their union. That, and a package of incentives South Carolina is dangling in front of Boeing, led one state lawmaker there to recently boast that the 787 line is all but assured.

Given the odds, Gregoire’s report had to turn heads. It had to promise Boeing something more. Instead, it essentially says that Boeing should be happy with what it’s got.

The report – dubbed the “business case” for keeping 787 production here – asserts that Washington can build the highest quality planes at a competitive cost and lowest production risk. It contends this state has a better business climate, smarter students, better quality of life, lower taxes and more skilled workforce than its contenders. The underlying message is Boeing would be crazy to look anywhere else.

But Boeing isn’t crazy. It has actual business concerns about doubling down in this state – concerns that the state’s report barely touches.

The company believes unemployment and workers’ compensation costs are too high. Gregoire’s report argues that this state’s unemployment rates have fallen considerably in recent years and intimates that Boeing should beware a bait and switch in other states where low unemployment rates have sent funds into insolvency and set businesses up for huge rate increases.

The argument comes awfully close to calling Boeing a whiner, but it does have a point about why those other states’ unemployment insurance programs can look so attractive. The state at least gets credit for trying to sell Boeing on its unemployment system.

The report makes no such effort to answer Boeing’s concerns about workers compensation costs – or its more pressing need to stem labor unrest that leads to regular walkouts and work stoppages.

Pressed by reporters on Tuesday, Gregoire was noncommittal. She made no specific promises on legislation to reform workers compensation and said it’s best for politicians to stay out of labor negotiations.

Of the state’s pitch to Boeing, she said, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

Spoken like someone who believes Washington’s got the deal sewn up – or someone who is seeking political cover when the company inevitably announces it’s taking its business elsewhere.

Whether the attitude is cocky or resigned, neither is apt to make a difference in this high-stakes decision.

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