SEATTLE (AP) — Even as they try desperately to hang on to Boeing Co., officials in Washington state have been courting the main competitor of the aerospace giant.
During the past several months, state officials have traveled to the U.S. headquarters of Airbus SAS in Virginia, moved to connect Airbus with Washington state suppliers, and signed a five-year confidentiality agreement with the company to allow further exploration of business opportunities, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under public disclosure laws.
In a confidential memo provided to Gov. Jay Inslee in July, state officials described dozens of potential ways to expand or recruit aerospace businesses in the state. At the top of the memo was Airbus, described as just one of a few major opportunities.
One expert said for years it was generally frowned upon for Washington state officials to jeopardize the relationship with Boeing by seeking ties with Airbus. However, the steps outlined in the memo came amid tension created when Boeing moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago and started an assembly line in South Carolina to build its 787 passenger plane.
Now, as it looks for a cheaper place to build its 777X passenger plane, Boeing has been exploring bids from 22 states that could send thousands of good-paying jobs elsewhere. Hoping to convince Boeing to stay in Washington, state lawmakers gathered in a special session and approved an estimated $9 billion in tax breaks.
Alex Pietsch, top aerospace adviser to the governor, said the talks with Airbus are not an attempt to replace Boeing. But a new relationship with another industry player would help diversify the state's aerospace economy and provide new opportunities for suppliers that are largely dependent on Boeing, he said.
"Just because we have had a near 100-year history with the Boeing Co. doesn't mean we can't work with others," Pietsch said.
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. Since then, Boeing has been a cornerstone of the region's economy. Its shifting personnel influences traffic patterns and its green aircraft fuselages can be seen traveling by train along the Seattle waterfront.
State figures show the aerospace industry employs some 130,000 people at 1,250 companies around Washington, with suppliers making components such as aircraft lavatories, flight-deck security doors and molds to shape aircraft fuselages. The state estimates 777X production would support more than 56,000 jobs.
David Williams, vice president of procurement for Airbus Americas, said there are no near-term plans for Airbus to set up shop in Washington. However, he pointed out that Washington is already the company's No. 2 state in terms of the number of suppliers, with Airbus making some $200 million in purchases a year.