Speer: Boeing turning point for local cooperation

Mention Boeing in these parts and likely you still will evoke some pretty pleasant emotions from residents.

Boeing still represents Northeast Michigan’s “finest hour” – a time when everyone came together in a common cause. It was a time when the proverbial lion laid down with the lamb, old grudges were set aside and walls were torn down between government fiefdoms. It’s hard to imagine 10 years have passed already since that time.

While ultimately Boeing would not select Northeast Michigan as a location for building its 787 Dreamliner, what the company did do for the region was perhaps much more beneficial for it in the long run. Boeing gave the region hope and a focus. It reminded residents of all that is right about where they live. In the end, Northeast Michigan ended up in the top five “short list” of Boeing’s possible site locations.

I would argue it was at that timeframe a decade ago – July 2003 – when Northeast Michigan’s fortunes began to turn. Yes, a nasty recession came along that probably delayed development in our region by three to five years. Still, I would say today’s successes – a potential shopping boom with new construction across the region as well as possibly a drone research and development hub for the whole country – wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the Boeing project.

Think about it for a second. Do you really think Alpena County commissioners would have had the fortitude to even begin exploring the drone concept had not they seen what happened from Boeing when everyone banned together? I don’t think so.

Do you really think government and industry would have worked so closely together last year to attract SkyWest as our airport carrier had we not paved the way of cooperative planning and marketing from the Boeing experience?

With that as a backdrop, Boeing is back in the news again as it looks for another site with which to construct its newest line of aircraft – the 777X. While the Washington Legislature recently approved a huge tax incentive for aerospace industries to continue doing business in the state, Boeing employees in Seattle with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers last month rejected a contract extension with Boeing. While the contract would have run through 2024, according to newspaper accounts from the region it also was loaded with benefit concessions.

Immediately after the vote Boeing officials announced they would seek economic incentive packages from other states interested in having Boeing relocate to build the new aircraft there. As might be expected, a number of states have shown interest, with Missouri and South Carolina being the two most often mentioned in media reports as being the main contenders. States have until Tuesday to submit their offers to Boeing.

All of which has raised the interest level in Boeing again in the region. And, it begs the question: “Should Michigan have entered the fray with an offer of their own?”

Personally, I think not. I believe we are smart to have ignored what I see this time as an expensive “fishing expedition” of Boeing and instead, continue our focus on the center of excellence designation for drone research. I think we’re better prepared right now to deal with the region’s anticipated construction boom in the next two years.

Certainly Boeing would be wonderful, but it isn’t practical right now for our region given the context of how this latest offer came down. I see it as more a “knee jerk” reaction than a bonafide serious consideration.

Regardless, it allowed myself and others to reflect back 10 years ago to an historical time for all of us.

In many ways who we are today is because of how Boeing allowed us to see ourselves back then. Boeing was the magical mirror that allowed us to dream and envision our future.

For that, we owe them our thanks.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.