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Originally published November 16, 2011 at 2:39 PM | Page modified November 17, 2011 at 6:22 AM

Gregoire pushes training as way to win 737 MAX

"Renton is looking very good" as the favored site for Boeing to build its forthcoming single-aisle derivative airplane, the 737 MAX, said the author of a detailed competitive study commissioned by the state of Washington.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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The author of a detailed competitive study commissioned by the state said "Renton is looking very good" as the favored site for Boeing to build its forthcoming single-aisle derivative airplane — the 737 MAX.

Renton is where the current version of the 737 is assembled. Its wings are built in Auburn and Frederickson, Pierce County.

"Based on what we looked at in terms of potential cost to move elsewhere, it makes business sense to keep it here," said Craig Gottlieb, a consultant with Accenture who compiled the study.

Gottlieb conceded that Boeing's leadership might still choose to build the MAX someplace else for a reason his firm couldn't quantify: to mitigate the risk of disruption — either from strikes or from natural disasters — that would come from keeping production concentrated here.

He called that possibility an "unknown unknown."

The report identifies Texas, specifically San Antonio, as Renton's main competition, with Wichita, Kan., close behind.

San Antonio would have a 15 to 20 percent cost advantage over Western Washington, Gottlieb said, because of its lower wage rates and transportation and logistics costs.

However, "the productivity advantage of Washington workers would significantly mitigate that cost advantage," he said.

At a news conference at Renton Technical College, Gov. Chris Gregoire said 20,000 aerospace jobs and $500 million in annual tax revenue are at stake in the site decision, which Boeing has said it will make by spring.

"It's likely the largest manufacturing contract in the world for at least a decade," she said. "We must grab the opportunity. ... We take nothing for granted."

The Accenture study recommends a series of actions, most related to investments in educating and training an aerospace workforce. Such training is vital because so many of Boeing's experienced workers here are near retirement and must be replaced soon.

Gregoire proposed putting $9.8 million in state money into the following measures:

• $7.6 million for the University of Washington and Washington State University to enroll 775 more engineering students. Gregoire said 550 qualified students are turned away each year for lack of room in the two schools' engineering departments.

• $1.5 million toward aerospace research at the UW and WSU.

• $450,000 to provide 12 high schools with aerospace-curriculum support.

• $250,000 to add courses at 10 high schools for problem-solving using science, technology, engineering and math skills.

Gregoire said she'll provide $1.5 million of this money from the state's strategic reserve fund. She said she will ask the Legislature to provide the rest, despite the wretched budget environment.

Tayloe Washburn, who heads Project Pegasus, the state's effort to land the MAX, said all eight states identified by Accenture as serious competitors are focusing on workforce development.

In that area, San Antonio is more of a competitor than most.

Partly because the K-12 system in Texas is generally poor, aerospace companies around an Air Force base in San Antonio — including military contractor Lockheed Martin and jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney — got together with local schools and colleges to create a well-regarded aerospace-training program.

Known as the Alamo Aerospace Academy, the program starts in the junior year of high school, offering technical training in airframe and powerplant mechanics with apprenticeships and internships at the local aviation companies.

Still, Gottlieb, Gregoire and Washburn agreed that Washington's workforce advantages can outweigh its cost disadvantages and that Boeing will keep the 737 MAX here.

"It is ours to lose," said Gregoire.

Boeing announced in August it would put new engines on the 737 to improve fuel efficiency and compete with the Airbus A320neo.

The company has more than 80,000 workers in Washington, mostly at the 737 factory in Renton and the widebody plant in Everett where the 747, 767, 777 and 787 are assembled.

But the state no longer has the hold on Boeing it once had. The company moved its headquarters in 2001 to Chicago and in 2009 it decided to build a second 787 assembly plant in South Carolina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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