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The Boeing factory in Everett, Washington. (Photo: Jeremy Elson/Wikimedia Commons)

Seattle Is Dying

• April 11, 2014 • 1:29 PM

The Boeing factory in Everett, Washington. (Photo: Jeremy Elson/Wikimedia Commons)

With a diversified employment base, the Emerald City will survive as Boeing starts looking for new talent outside of Washington State. But what does the search for cheap STEM talent say about the Innovation Economy?

Boeing long has been the economic anchor for the Puget Sound area in Washington State. Seattle’s employment base is much more diverse these days. But Boeing’s demand for STEM talent remains a centerpiece of workforce development:

Wildfire season starts on April 15, the same day Bob Drewel begins a one-year term as interim chancellor of the coming Washington State University North Puget Sound at Everett. …

… In July, WSU assumes responsibility of the University Center, an amalgamation of six public universities and one private college on the ECC campus. The Legislature’s intent many years ago was to create a mix of choices and opportunities for regional students closer to home.

The transition to WSU North Puget Sound was put in play by the Legislature in 2011. Last year, the school’s governing board approved spending $10 million for new office and classroom space on the Everett campus for WSU programs.

Seeing this come together is a bit of a marvel, even if WSU’s engineering expertise is a natural fit with the ongoing training and talent needs of Boeing.

Emphasis added. Keep in mind this link between WSU North Puget Sound’s engineering expertise and “ongoing training and talent needs of Boeing.” I’m about to drop a bomb, a doozy. “Boeing Moving 1,000 More Engineering Jobs to California“:

Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), reacted angrily on hearing the news of the work transfer as it was announced internally.

“SPEEA specifically warned Governor Inslee that his legislation was crafted with loopholes that would allow Boeing to take the $9 billion and outsource jobs anyway,” Goforth said in an e-mail. “Why doesn’t the governor call a special session to close the loopholes and save these jobs?”

The “$9 billion” refers to the tax break given Boeing by the Washington State government, ostensibly to make sure the company stays put. Furthermore, institutions of higher education bend over backwards (see $10 million investment in the Everett campus for WSU) to accommodate the needs of industry. Apparently, all was for naught. An explanation:

“We’re trying to leverage the expertise and experience of all the engineering workforce across the Boeing enterprise … to make sure we can ramp up and keep up with all the demands we’re facing in the next 20 years,” including the increased demand for new airplanes, said Doug Alder, spokesman for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. …

… “Southern California is attractive (to Boeing) because we can use the existing engineering workforce from the heritage McDonnell Douglas programs and tap into the cool, new talent coming from engineering schools in Southern California and really use those two together to come up with what we think will be a spectacular workforce,” Alder said.

Ouch. “Sorry, Washington State. Your talent isn’t cool enough for Boeing.”

Forget “cool” and focus on “new” talent. Echoing a theme for this series, Innovation Economy wages are too damn high:

The engineer who asked not to be identified said many in his group are convinced Boeing is trying to get rid of older, more expensive veterans in favor of hiring younger people in California.

He also noted that the company’s engineering facilities in Seal Beach and Long Beach are not unionized.

During contract talks with SPEEA in the fall of 2012, Delaney warned publicly that an expensive contract would lead to job transfers out of state.

Emphasis added. That should ring a bell for regular readers. In this post, I referenced an article in The Wall Street Journal:

“We joked about the older suburbanites being excluded from the new [business] model,” said Jon Scherf, age 42, a marketing professional who left Hillshire shortly before its December 2012 move to downtown Chicago. “They would’ve been happy to have me but they’re also happy to bring in new blood.”

The joke isn’t funny, at least to Boeing engineers based in Washington. “Cool talent” that prefers a downtown working address is code for “cheaper” STEM labor. The Innovation Economy, not Seattle, is what’s really dying.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

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