SEATTLE (AP) — Boeing's history in the Pacific Northwest dates back more than a century, when William Boeing purchased a Seattle shipyard that would become his first airplane factory.
In recent years, however, those ties have been fraying, first with the company shifting its headquarters to Chicago, then with the development of a new production line in South Carolina. Now, the relationship between Boeing and Washington state is near the point of unraveling after a fiery debate among machinists this week led the workers to reject a long-term contract.
On Thursday, Boeing made good on its threats and began looking elsewhere to develop its popular new 777X airplane. A spokesman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Boeing officials called him to begin talks that could bring the work — and thousands of jobs — to that state.
Boeing Co. spokesman Doug Alder declined to specify where the company is now looking, saying there is no short list and that there are many places both within Boeing's current operations and outside that are being explored.
"Everything is back on the table," he said.
Boeing has helped anchor western Washington state's economy for decades, but that relationship began to fray about 15 years ago. In 2001, the company moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago.
In 2003, Washington state lawmakers approved a broad package of tax breaks for Boeing in hopes of securing long-term work on the company's new 787 airplane. While that plane is being built in the Puget Sound, Boeing has since developed a new production line in South Carolina and placed wing production in Japan.
Alex Pietsch, who serves as Gov. Jay Inslee's leader on aerospace issues, said Thursday he now expects fresh competition for the 777X line from places like South Carolina, Texas, southern California, Utah, Alabama and Georgia.
"This is arguably the most significant prize in commercial aviation history," Pietsch said.
The governor's office is hopeful that Boeing and the machinists can come back together in the near future to explore a potential compromise — perhaps when both sides have had a chance to cool down from the recent contract battle, Pietsch said.
In the contract vote late Wednesday, The International Association of Machinists District 751 rejected the proposal with 67 percent of the votes. Union members who called for a no vote did so in protest of Boeing's push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs.
The deal would have exchanged those concessions for the long-term stability expected with the 777X line. Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus if they approved the deal.