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Could Utah be in mix for new Boeing plant?

Published November 15, 2013 9:35 am

Talks • The company is looking around after the union in Washington state rejected contract offer over benefit cuts.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Could Utah be in the mix to manufacture all or part of Boeing's next generation 777 airliner?

That possibility surfaced Thursday after 67 percent of the members of The International Association of Machinists in Washington state rejected a contract proposal that would have exchanged concessions for decades of secure jobs.

Union members had called for a no vote to protest Boeing's push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs. Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus.

Utah immediately expressed interest in competing to build all or part of the 777X airliner.

Boeing senior officials, including Senior Vice President of Government Operations Tim Keating, met with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert Thursday.

"I am grateful for the partnership Utah has with Boeing and I appreciate the interest in growing the existing Utah operation," Herbert said in a statement Thursday night. "One of the country's best businesses expanding in one of the country's best places for business makes a lot of sense for many reasons."

The union vote left Boeing officials exploring options outside of the Seattle area to build the new planes.

"We are very disappointed in the outcome of the union vote," said Boeing President and CEO Ray Conner. "Our goal was twofold, to enable the 777X and its new composite wing to be produced in Puget Sound and to create a competitive structure to ensure that we continue market-leading pay, health care and retirement benefits while preserving jobs and our industrial base here in the region. But without the terms of the contract extension, we're left with no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X."

Utah — which is a right-to-work state where Boeing is building an 850,000-square-foot factory to manufacture composite horizontal stabilizer parts for the new 787-9 Dreamliner jet in addition to a facility operating east of Salt Lake City International Airport — might be in that mix.

Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development, said the state is open for business and that Boeing is a major part of Utah's aerospace industry. He said state economic officials were excited to speak to any quality firms looking to move to Utah.

Doug Alder, a spokesman for Boeing in Seattle, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the company is not going to name any locations for a new plant.

"As of today, we are actively pursuing all options, including everything within the Boeing enterprise and outside," Alder said. "Everything is back on the table, and there are a lot of attractive places within that table. We are not going to be specific about any location we might be looking at or who we might be in discussion with, but we actively began that process today."

Boeing's new West Jordan facility is scheduled to open at the end of 2014 and will employ 100 people, including project managers, engineers and production positions.

Boeing had proposed the eight-year contract extension, saying it needs the deal to assemble the new 777X in Washington state. Washington lawmakers approved $8.7 billion in tax breaks last week in an effort to keep the Boeing jobs in the Seattle area.

"We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal," Tom Wroblewski, District 751 president, said in a statement. "We've held on to our pensions, and that's big. At a time when financial planners are talking about a 'retirement crisis' in America, we have preserved a tool that will help our members retire with more comfort and dignity."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton