Will Boeing's New Plant Threaten Wash. State Jobs?

Officials in Washington state, where Boeing now assembles the 787, look at the $580 million plant purchase in South Carolina as competition and a cause for concern.

SEATTLE (AP) -- Washington officials worry that Boeing's $580 million purchase of the Vought Aircraft Industries plant in South Carolina means the company may open a second 787 production line on the other side of the country, but union officials don't appear to be concerned.

The undeveloped land included in the Vought purchase "signals that Washington state is truly in a competition for the second line" and future jobs, said Aaron Reardon, the top county official in Snohomish County, where Boeing now assembles the 787.

He said Washington must improve its competitive climate and encourage Boeing and its unions to re-establish a partnership. A Machinists Union strike last fall shut down work for eight weeks.

The president of the Machinists Union local that represents Boeing workers in Western Washington said Tuesday that the company has told them this move is not a statement about where the second 787 line is going to be located.

"When that issue is discussed, we will do everything in our power to ensure that Puget Sound is at the top of the list," said District 751 President Tom Wroblewski in a statement.

Gov. Chris Gregoire says Boeing's Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson assured her no decision had been made on a second 787 line.

"This announcement underscores that Boeing wants to ensure that it manufacturers the 787 Dreamliner as efficiently as possible," Gregoire said in a statement. The governor will gather information at a business round-table Tuesday afternoon focused on the health of Washington's aerospace industry.

In March, Washington lawmakers ordered a competitiveness study comparing the state's business climate to that of possible rivals for aerospace and South Carolina made the list.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., said aerospace workers, government officials and business leaders shouldn't panic yet. He told The Herald newspaper of Everett that this announcement isn't a definitive sign that Boeing is going to set up a production line for the 787 in South Carolina.

"I don't think this necessarily means bad news for us," Inslee said. He said that in his discussion with Boeing officials, they expressed concern about their relationships with the unions, especially relating to work stoppages.

Inslee pointed out, however, that the Machinists aren't to blame for Boeing's troubles on the 787. He said outsourcing is the problem.

The machinists at Vought are represented by the same union as those in Everett, said aerospace industry consultant Scott Hamilton of Issaquah-based Leeham Co.

Hamilton said the cost of doing business in South Carolina is lower than the cost in Western Washington, but the company would have to retrain workers or transfer people from Washington and other states to build a work force ready to assemble an operating aircraft.

Boeing customers are concerned about delivery delays related to labor disputes, said John Stanton, chair of the Washington Roundtable, a group of business executives.

"If the workers and the company can't figure out how to trust each other and get along, then the company has little choice but to locate operations in communities that will be more welcoming," Stanton said in a statement. "If Seattle wants to keep Boeing, they better stand up and show it because there are dozens of other states that will welcome the jobs and the economic activity."

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