$24 million more sweetened Boeing offer


As the battle for the 7E7 assembly plant heated up this year, Washington sweetened its offer by developing a $24 million plan to help train the next generation of Boeing Co. workers.

State lawmakers initially wooed Boeing in June with a whopping $3.2 billion in tax breaks and millions of dollars in incentives, including some job training. Even after that package was offered, the two sides kept talking.

By early fall the state refined its pitch, offering to help Boeing develop a direct pipeline to skilled workers who could assemble its superefficient airplane. Eventually, Washington offered to help build a 40,000-square-foot Employment Resource Center, complete with high-tech equipment, and spend an additional $14 million on work force development.

"We were looking at again how to be more responsive as we got more information about what would be needed," said Martha Choe, director of the state's Office of Trade and Economic Development. "Training dollars were important. It was how we were going to partner to them."

The offer helped, according to House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle. Chopp talked with Choe and Locke, who mentioned other states were actively offering worker training and that Washington needed to boost its training offer.

"They added a pretty modest amount of money. It's not a lot, but it helps. They thought the company was impressed about it," Chopp said.

The state's initial bid contained training elements, but specifics of a Workforce Development Program and the employment center were hammered out in recent months, with Locke and Choe briefing lawmakers Tuesday, the same day Boeing made its announcement it will build the 7E7 in Everett.

In fact, some union officials were unaware the new training package existed until it surfaced at a news conference Tuesday.

Even lawmakers didn't know about it until they were briefed.

Lawmakers must still approve $10 million in financing.

"In any site selection process there is always a refinement based on what the customer was looking for," Choe said yesterday.

The plan calls for $10 million for the new training center, another $14 million for a Workforce Development Program, including $8.3 million in existing funds that the governor will redirect.

That's on top of a $3.2 billion tax incentive package the state Legislature overwhelmingly passed in June.

Still, many lawmakers yesterday said they were pleased with the training component and confident it would receive support in Olympia. The governor also didn't anticipate problems with getting legislative approval, Choe said.

"It seemed very reasonable to me," said Chopp. "We really wanted to make the point that Washington is a great place to do business, and that we have the best workers in the world and in order to do that you have to provide training."

The Legislature will be asked to approve several million dollars during the legislative session in January and appropriate the rest over time, Chopp said.

"You don't want to ever minimize $5 or $10 million, but given the other actions taken, I think the governor's proposal will be given strong consideration," said Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, who served on the legislative task force to land the 7E7.

Choe said the exact details have yet to be hammered out, but the Employment Resource Center would specifically recruit workers and train them to work on the 7E7 final assembly.

"It was probably one of the most positive aspects of the proposal," said Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, a 7E7 legislative task force member. "The final decision was made by people who took a look at the entire community and what we had to offer. It is our workers who are doing the work."

Aerospace workers will need new skills because Boeing will rely on a new manufacturing model to build its 7E7 jets.

It will hire subcontractors to build many of the largest 7E7 parts and then assemble those parts in Everett.

"There will be some differences in skill sets that we are going to need in final assembly to put the airplane together," Mike Bair, senior vice president of the 7E7 program, said at a briefing Tuesday.

The state and Boeing could begin constructing the 40,000-square-foot facility in 2005 near the Everett plant.

Boeing and its suppliers would have exclusive use of it for the first five years.

The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges also will work with Boeing to establish a manufacturing degree program. And a new Aerospace Futures Board will design a plan to train workers for the 7E7 assembly line.

"When it first came (out), I was like, 'Oh OK,' " said Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, prime sponsor of the House bill giving Boeing $3.2 billion in tax credits.

But Pettigrew said the training component made sense.

"I think it could be a great tool and a great selling point to other employers. It might be a model that we might want to look at.

"It helped make the pot more appealing."

P-I reporter Paul Nyhan can be reached at 206-448-8145 or paulnyhan@seattlepi.com


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