By Molly Parker
Published Aug. 3, 2009
The Boeing Co. executive who oversees the Dreamliner program said Monday morning that the company is likely to make a decision about the location of its second assembly line in the next five months.
Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager for the 787 program, said there is an internal timeline — though he did not share it — for picking a site to support the production facility in Everett, Wash., where parts from around the world are assembled to create the Dreamliner. Charleston is on a short-list of possible sites, as is Everett, Fancher said.
The company is in the middle of a trade study to determine the best location, and will announce its finding when the time is right, Fancher said. “After all, this is one of those decisions you live with for a long time.”
He added: “I think we’re talking by year’s end.”
Fancher’s comments came on the heels of an employee celebration, during which — on the count of three — workers yanked on ropes and pulled down a white covering, revealing a large blue Boeing sign. The event marked Chicago-based Boeing’s official takeover of the plant that was previously owned by Vought Aircraft Industries.
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Boeing closed the $1 billion transaction with Vought last Thursday, paying $580 million to bring one of its main suppliers into the company fold, and forgiving Vought millions of dollars in advances that Boeing made to the Dallas-based company.
“What you have accomplished here over the last several years and in the last six to nine months is incredible,” Fancher told the crowd of several hundred workers who gathered outside after an employee meeting.
“I’ve gotta tell you,” Fancher said. “I think this is a great day for the Charleston area.”
For the Lowcountry economy, it would be an even greater day if Boeing decided to locate its second assembly plant here. Boeing employs 74,000 people in Washington, according to the company’s Web site, though it does not specify how many of those jobs are related to the 787 assembly line. As important, a Boeing assembly line here would likely fuel a large base of aerospace suppliers, similar to how auto industry suppliers sprang up to support BMW in the Upstate.
Aside from Charleston and Everett, Fancher would not say what other cities that Boeing is considering for its second assembly plant, though the other two places are rumored to be San Antonio, Texas, and Long Beach, Calif.
The business community in the Northwest is putting up a tough public fight to convince Boeing to bloom where it’s already planted. Today, officials from Snohomish County, where Everett is located, and the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington, an industry trade group, announced at a summit the creation of a new aerospace training center. The alliance plans to operate two training facilities in the state to meet the continued training needs of Washington’s aerospace businesses, namely Boeing, officials said in a press release.
"This creates new and needed opportunities for our aerospace workers to keep their skill sets well ahead of our competition," Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said in a statement.
The organizers pulled no punches in naming the summit. It’s called “Saving Washington Aerospace.”
Proving it can stand up a highly skilled work force on the scale that Boeing would need might be Charleston’s toughest fight. Fancher said that the Charleston region is not unique in that it struggled to provide enough workers to meet Vought’s demands during ‘surge’ production periods. During those times, temporary workers were flown in from elsewhere.
Where Charleston might outshine Washington is with its potentially tamer work force. Machinists union workers in the Seattle region have walked off the job four times in the last 20 years, including for two months last fall.
Washington media have reported that political leaders have been told by Boeing officials that the company will grow in Everett if the union agrees to a no-strike clause. On Monday, Fancher refused to say whether that was the case. In early July, the union said that specific offer was never made.
“I really can’t comment on any discussions we may or may not be having with the IAM,” Fancher said. “That’s really between us and the IAM.”
The Machinists union also represents Boeing workers in North Charleston, though an employee on Thursday filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a decertification vote. Fancher said the NLRB informed the company of the filing.
“No, absolutely not,” Fancher said when asked whether Boeing officials encouraged employees to disband. It would be illegal for them to do so.
“The process is really an employee initiated process, and it’s up to the employees to determine who best represents their interests,” Fancher said.
Additionally, Fancher announced Geoff Schuler as the new chief operating officer of Boeing Charleston. Schuler was previously Boeing’s director of Mission Assurance and Program Operations. He moved to Charleston in March from Huntsville, Ala.
Tim Coyle was named vice president, Boeing Charleston. He has been located at the North Charleston site for about a year. Before that, he worked for Boeing in San Antonio, Texas.
Reach Molly Parker at 843-849-3144.