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Carolinas, Other States To Boeing: Oh Oh, Pick Me!

Michael Tomsic

“We've got just what you need.”

That's basically what Boeing is hearing this week from leaders in the Carolinas, Missouri, California and about a dozen other places. They're submitting bids to build Boeing's new 777X airplanes - and win the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in investment that come with them.

The Charlotte area would be perfect for the new planes (as would the Charleston, St. Louis, and Seattle areas - we'll get to those in a minute).

This part of North Carolina already has a small aerospace hub and companies that supply Boeing.

Machines hum at Cyril Bath in Monroe. Company vice president Mike Zimmer points to them.

“They are producing Boeing 787 airframe parts,” he says.

And when they start beeping:

“That's just the sound of a part being completed, that it's ready to be taken off the machine,” Zimmer continues.

Cyril Bath has a patented way of heating and stretching titanium for key parts of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Zimmer says his company gets about half its business from Boeing. And if the aerospace giant decided to build its new 777X airplanes nearby?

“It would have a tremendously good impact for us and the community,” he says. “We know from other companies that have moved into geographical areas, it brings a lot of other business in to support that.”

This part of Monroe is an aviation hub. Right down the road from Cyril Bath are a handful of other aerospace companies, and the local economic development office is in Monroe's small airport.

Chris Platé is its executive director.

“There are a lot of areas that have aerospace,” he says, “but to have one community with the cluster that we've developed, to have 18 companies, that's the highest concentration in either (of the) Carolinas.” (That's in regard to the number of companies, not employees.)

Platé argues this area would work for Boeing – it has the companies, the workforce and the land and rail connections Boeing needs at the Charlotte airport.

But there's that one place in South Carolina that also meets that criteria. And it has another big thing going for it.

“We build airplanes and we build them well!” Governor Nikki Haley said at Boeing’s plant in North Charleston earlier this year.

Workers there put the 787 Dreamliners together. Boeing already has more than 6,000 employees there since opening two and a half years ago. 

By some estimates, the 777X plant could employ more than 8,000. Director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority Paul Campbell says Charleston is really the best spot for the company.

“We have a lot of good things going for us in South Carolina,” he says. “We have a port. We have an airstrip that's long enough. We have rail access. We've got a lot of good things going at the present site that they have today.”

South Carolina paid up to get the Dreamliner facility. Boeing received state and local incentives totaling $470 million.

Now some states are lining up to throw more money at Boeing to get the 777X facility.

“This is a huge, transformational project, and we are going to compete to win this for he Show-Me state!” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said to a business group in St. Louis last month.

He called called a special session to pass up to $1.7 billion worth of incentives for Boeing, if it realizes that St. Louis, after all, is the best place for the new planes.

Alabama, Utah and California are also in the mix. Even economic development leaders in Wisconsin, who say Boeing didn't ask them to make a bid, are making one anyway.

But members of the union that built the original 777 in the Seattle area say (OK, for real this time) this is the perfect place for the new plane.   

“We've argued all along that the only really logical place for Boeing to put the 777X is here in Washington state,” said Machinists union spokesman Bryan Corliss.

The union and Boeing agree that the plan used to be to build the 777X in Washington. The state legislature even passed an $8.7 billion incentives package to lock it up.

But the deal fell apart when the union rejected Boeing's contract offer.

“Boeing was proposing to freeze our pensions, freeze the pensions for existing workers and eliminate them for new employees,” Corliss said. He emphasized there were other things the union didn't like about the contract, too.

The union and Boeing just started meeting again this week.

Adam Pilarski of Avitas Consulting Company says many aerospace analysts agree it would make the most sense for Boeing to build the new plane where it built the old one in Washington.

“But many things that on paper make sense don't happen,” he says. “Aviation is full of people with egos at 40,000 feet, and irrational behaviors prevail.”

You hear that North Carolina? (And South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, California, Utah and everywhere else?) There’s a chance.