I love the Prosperity Partnership’s quarterly industry cluster tours. Seriously, it’s not shameless self-promotion or liking the fact that I get to be out of the office once every three months. It’s that the opportunity to spend a full day learning about a different part of our economy in detail – and figuring out what we can do to better support it – is just very invigorating and inspiring. And the tour last Friday of the Boeing Company’s defense, space and securing operations in our region was perhaps one of my favorite.
The great thing about defense contracting is that it’s often less affected by the vagaries of the economy than other industries (since federal funding for defense doesn’t usually change as much as other discretionary spending). So, the more you have of it in your region, the better you’re situated to stand the tide of economic downturns. The Boeing Company, as I learned on Friday, has more than 7,200 such employees.
The first thing we toured/learned about is the P-8A Poseidon, a long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. Essentially, this is a 737 with torpedos. Think about that for a minute: the same plane that Alaska Airlines uses to take you to San Francisco or Chicago is used to destroy submarines. The last thing we toured/learned about (after some very interesting presentations on unmanned aerial vehicles) is Boeing’s NextGen Tanker, which is based mainly on the 767. And you already know why that’s such a big deal.
The most interesting thing to me about both those planes is that their assembly here is directly related to our strength in commercial airplane operations. The 737 is made in Renton and the 767 is made in Everett, which means that it makes a lot of sense for the Boeing Company to co-locate the P8 and Tanker work here. In fact, with minimal training, you can take workers from the 737 and 767 lines and put them to work on this defense work, which is a huge cost-saver for both the company and the federal government. Or rather, you can take workers that would otherwise be (or have already been) laid off and put them back to work. Or hire new workers to meet growing demand from international customers (India is the first international customer for the P-8, for example).
Which again drives home to me the importance of supporting Boeing’s bid to get the tanker contract. The economic development impact of leveraging our existing aerospace strength to grow the defense industry cluster here in the region could go a long way to ensuring long-term job creation for a lot of people.