Glimmers of Hope?

 
 

 

The Sunday Seattle Times offers a page full of graphs to support a rather grim view of the state's economic future. But that pessimistic view isn't necessarily supported by the graphs on the page. Economics is all about trends, and if you look at the trendlines over the past year, conditions look substantially brighter. We are clearly beginning to emerge from that deep hole in which the financial crisis buried us.

  1. Leading economic indicators for Washington have climbed to 116.3 by September, up solidly from 110.3 a year ago, suggesting we should expect slow but steady economic growth ahead.
  2. There are 4.27 online adds for every 100 workers in our labor force. That's up about 30% from 3.26 jobs per 100 workers a year ago. Maybe not enough to quickly bring down state unemployment which remains stubbornly high at 9 percent. But unemployment in the state is significantly lower than that national rate of 9.6%. And the jobs available are much higher than the 2.79 average for the nation as a whole.
  3. Boeing employment has been on a steady climb since hitting a bottom in May. Recent increases are small, but with the new 787 beginning delivery in the first quarter of 2011 and the 747-8 soon afterward, hiring should start to pick up.  
  4. The purchasing managers' index is 59.2, up solidly from 52.6 a year ago, and substantially higher than 54.4 for the nation as a whole..
  5. Retail sales showed a year-to-year gain of 4.2% compared to a 6% decline the year before.
  6. Cargo volumes at the Port of Seattle were up about 20 percent.

The stubbornly persistent bad news is in housinig, where sales are down and inventories remain high. Housing problems are likely to plague us for a long time. But even here there is a glimmer of hope. Net new drivers licenses granted, which tends to be a good proxy for migration into the state, shot up to 12,100 in September, nearly twice the level of last September. New arrivals in the state help to create new demand for all that excess housing we built during the boom years.

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