This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Politicians may play the eternal optimists, but even they couldn’t feign surprise at Wednesday’s announcement that Boeing will begin assembling commercial jets omewhere other than Washington state.
Boeing hardly could have been more clear about its intentions to locate the second 787 Dreamliner production line elsewhere. By the time the workers at its newly acquired assembly plant in South Carolina voted to decertify their union last month, the decision was probably a fait accompli.
The chance to build planes without the threat of work stoppages that have plagued the company’s Puget Sound operation apparently proved too enticing to pass up. The tax breaks and low-interest loans approved by South Carolina lawmakers this week may have just been the sweeteners.
Now the blame game begins. The Machinists union was too strident, Gov. Chris Gregoire too passive, the Legislature remiss in reforming the workers compensation system that Boeing detests, Boeing bullheaded and shortsighted.
Each charge has a grain of truth, but settling the score won’t win this state back those 700 jobs. Boeing’s decision to go to South Carolina is proof positive – if Washingtonians still needed convincing – that aerospace has become a highly competitive and mobile industry.
Boeing is battling for first place, and it is making no allowances for sentimentality. An experienced workforce is preferable, but not at any cost – not when Boeing can find able and willing workers elsewhere who can be trained.
Washington no longer afford to be smug. The state stands to lose much more than the second 787 line if it doesn’t heed Boeing’s message that it needs more to keep it here.
The Air Force aerial refueling tanker and the 737 and 777 replacements will have to be built somewhere. The jobs connected to those lines will make the second 787 line look piddly.
But they will be harder to win. Once Boeing gets a taste of doing business in a state willing to do anything for the jobs, it may want more. Rather than losing an opportunity, this state could start losing payrolls.
Washington – its lawmakers, its workers and its businesses – will have to step up their game to ensure that doesn’t happen.