Final Analysis: Out of Their Minds

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

When I moved to Seattle 22 years ago, I remember thinking I had never lived in a city where so many people had moved here not for a job, but for a sense of place. I had relocated from St. Louis, and I love St. Louis. But trust me: No one moves to St. Louis because it is geographically blessed, whereas hordes will move to Seattle precisely for that reason. Even during the 1990-91 recession, I kept encountering people who had moved here for the hiking, the climbing, the sailing. They sang the praises of the scenery, the temperate climate. They figured the career thing would eventually take care of itself. They wanted to live here because the place is so incredibly special.

A lot of people who don’t live here also think Seattle is pretty special. We know this because they pump $16.4 billion a year into the state’s economy and assure the employment of people who make $4.5 billion in wages.

How long that attraction continues will have a lot to do with how well we continue to promote Washington tourism. The state of Washington right now isn’t spending a penny on tourism promotion. A revenue-strapped Legislature shut down the state tourism office last year and eliminated its $1.8 million budget.

A makeshift private organization called the Washington Tourism Alliance is now the de facto promoter of state tourism. People who work in tourism created it, knowing that while Washington will always remain an attractive vacation option, it’s hard to compete with other inviting places that pump tens of millions of dollars a year into promoting their attractions. The thinking is that once we’re out of sight, we’ll quickly be out of mind.

At a public forum on travel and tourism recently, the sponsor of the event—a major bank—declared it had become the first financial institution in Washington state to join the Washington Tourism Alliance.

The announcement did not lead the 11 o’clock news. But it opened my eyes. “The health of the tourism industry does not just affect hotels and restaurants,” said KeyBank executive John Roehm. “The hundreds of attractions, retail and hospitality businesses, and the 160,000 people employed in this sector are our bank customers. They open checking accounts, they pay mortgages and they make investments. It is in our interest to ensure the industry survives and grows.”

That was my “well, duh!” moment. For some reason, we who live in this geographically blessed place don’t seem to think of tourism as an industry, at least not in the same way we think about airplane manufacturing, software development or even online retail. There’s no one going to a factory or an office building to “make” something. We seem to think it just happens. But if we take it for granted, it will go away.

In 1993, during an anti-taxation frenzy, Colorado voters apparently thought the same thing. They cut the state’s travel-promotion budget from $12 million to zero. Colorado’s share of the domestic travel market plunged from 2.7 percent to 1.8 percent. State funding returned about seven years later, but it took 19 years for Colorado to get back to the market share it had enjoyed in 1993.

In Washington state, the Alliance realizes it cannot continue relying on the kindness of strangers. Its ultimate goal is to persuade the Legislature to devise a promotion model that keeps travel and tourism a viable industry in Washington state. But until that happens, you may want to consider ponying up for a membership in the Alliance. After all, this is a special place. But, as Colorado quickly discovered, it’s not that special when an entire industry dries up.

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Full disclosure: His wife is employed by KeyBank. 

Final Analysis: Won’t You Come Home, Bill Boeing?

Final Analysis: Won’t You Come Home, Bill Boeing?

How can we celebrate such a momentous birthday when the honoree doesn’t even live here?
FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Elsewhere in this month's issue you’ll find congratulatory notes honoring The Boeing Company on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. Allow me to add my own felicitations.

I just wonder if we all might get a little more jazzed about this upcoming centennial — the actual date is July 15 — if Boeing were still an honest-to-goodness Seattle company.

Sure, it still employs nearly 80,000 people in the Puget Sound region and helps drives our economy. But the day 15 years ago when Boeing announced it was going to move its corporate headquarters to Chicago is the day it essentially placed thumb to nose and said, “Buh-bye. We’re bigger than Seattle.”

I remember thinking at the time, “This makes no sense.” It still doesn’t. It was a move calculated by a CEO more interested in expediency than in legacy. Former Boeing CEO Phil Condit said it wasn’t unusual for a big corporation to have its headquarters distant from its factories. “What we are doing is being done for the benefit of the corporation,” Condit told shareholders at the time. “We want to grow The Boeing Company. If headquarters is to do its job, it must stand separate from any one of the business units.”

Seriously? Boeing is hardly a conglomerate. Despite the acquisitions of recent years, Boeing is and always will be a maker of airplanes and other things that fly through air and space. Condit wanted Boeing to be another United Technologies or another Textron, but it was really more of a true conglomerate in the 1930s, when it operated airlines, engine makers, propeller companies and other enterprises before the feds put the kibosh on all that vertical integration.

Boeing has prospered — and has helped thousands of Puget Sound families prosper — for generations. To suggest that the company is better off by having its corporate headquarters 1,700 miles from its main factories and most of its employees is just silly. What’s more believable is that Boeing wants to isolate itself from the fallout as it continues to ship jobs from Washington to less union-friendly states like South Carolina and Oklahoma. Since November 2012, Boeing employment in Washington state has declined by more than 10 percent — around 8,600 jobs — despite spectacularly generous tax incentives extended by the state Legislature to persuade Boeing to keep production of the 777X airliner in state.

It’s this kind of “thank you” — and the decamping of the corporate HQ staff to Chicago — that rubs Seattle the wrong way. We should be jumping up and down, waving balloons and having parades in Boeing’s honor next month. But am I the only one who gets the feeling that Boeing is still doing business in Washington state because it simply doesn’t want to spend the stupid sums of money it would take to move its Renton and Everett operations to cheaper “right to work” states?

Condit changed the culture at Boeing, and, judging from the difficult launch of the 787 Dreamliner, it’s a culture change that didn’t take. I’m inclined to believe his predecessors from Bill Boeing on would never have moved the company headquarters to Chicago, and I’d be willing to bet that the people who run the commercial airline business here would rather have the 500 or so headquarters people back in Seattle where they belong.

Whether that ever happens depends on what Boeing’s future CEOs value more: being proud of Boeing’s remarkable history or being fearful that its remarkable history somehow diminishes its opportunities.

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine