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Originally published July 7, 2009 at 1:42 PM | Page modified July 7, 2009 at 2:40 PM

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Washington state is in an intense competition to keep aerospace jobs

Maintaining a strong aerospace presence in Washington will take a change of attitude and tone among all the key players: Boeing, organized labor and political leaders. What's needed is a mutual recognition of the future jobs at stake, and the skills and talent of those who build the world's best airplanes.

BOEING'S purchase of a major supplier in South Carolina is a necessary step to eliminate a quality-control problem. From a Washington economic perspective, that interpretation is the soul of optimism.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon offers a sobering, cautionary addendum to Boeing's announcement. The purchase, he notes, includes a significant portion of adjacent undeveloped property.

He rightly cautions the state is "truly in a competition for the second line of the 787 and all future generations of aircraft."

Production of the Dreamliner is woefully behind schedule. Blame is variously assigned to engineering and manufacturing problems, a lengthy strike by machinists at the Everett plant, and the complexity and logistics of an ambitious production strategy.

Work to land a second production line, Reardon argues, begins with a recognition of an intense competition with other states that want the jobs. Second, he cautions the Chicago-based Boeing is not the old company that threatened, cajoled and said what it wanted. The new corporate approach is to act, quickly and boldly.

A second production line in the South would not take existing jobs, by his analysis, but cap future growth and gradually erode the employment base.

To be competitive begins with a change of tone. Yammering the same old lines and pointing fingers is comfortable and familiar, but futile. Reardon says it wastes time, impacts policy decisions, causes delay in Olympia and infects the attitudes of lawmakers. The political environment has a role.

Boeing wants predictability for its delivery model, and toward that end, Reardon and others, such as Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, urge extension of union contracts. The company's inducement for extended labor peace could well be the second 787 line.

Clearly, unionized workers have to do some soul searching about the future, and not in terms of two or three years.

For its part, Boeing needs to weigh the talent, skills and tradition found in the Puget Sound aerospace work force. That is a bankable asset. Company frustrations with Washington workers are not related to quality.

Boeing certainly knows the term span of control. Trying to do too much in too many places has consequences. Concentrating production in the hands of Northwest engineers and assembly workers enhances the ability to manage quality control.

For a business model that literally depends on so many pieces fitting together, reinventing something that already works — and taking on the associated and breathtaking capital expenses — seems unnecessary to say the least.

Washington does not and will not take Boeing for granted. The key to a mutually beneficial future is for all players to recognize what we have together.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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