I made a joke yesterday about how Gary Locke’s nomination for Commerce Secretary was going to bring us back to 2003. Well, turns out, it wasn’t a joke. Newspapers and the blogosphere are making the 2003 effort to secure final assembly of the 787 in Washington the major issue in evaluating Locke’s candidacy.
Many people probably feel the way that Knute Berger does in the above-linked article, that the 2003 effort was “a multi-billion dollar taxpayer giveaway to Boeing that set a new bar for extortionate demands as the price of doing business in Washington state.” And one of the reasons that people feel that way, IMHO, is that the group that secured the 787 final assembly hasn’t done the job it needs to do to sell the importance of the aerospace industry in our state and explain why keeping that industry is a constant battle against rival regions both domestically and internationally.
The “boring” economic impact studies don’t cut it. “Boeing employs x amount of people and generates y amount of economic impact for the state” is Snoozeville, USA, particularly when it looks like a false choice between tax breaks for Boeing or basic health care for children (especially in our lovely $8 billion state deficit.) A majority of people aren’t directly employed by Boeing, so they need to know how this affects their daily lives. Some of it is maybe the philanthropic numbers (the $50 million dollars that the company and its employees donated last year in both money and the in-kind services) or maybe a series of ads entitled “Boeing and You” where a fuzzy 747 is seen teaching a kid to ride a bike (probably not the latter).
Whatever it is, there’s no way that our state is going to remain competitive in the aerospace industry unless the general public is supportive and makes that support clear to our elected leaders. We need a statewide, comprehensive, strategic communications plan to make the case for what needs to be done (within a fair cost-benefit analysis of reasonableness) to make sure we maintain our place. And that will change the way people feel about 2003, and who knows, maybe just help make Gary Locke the next Secretary of Commerce.