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Boeing Live Event Coverage

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

July 10, 2012 at 3:54 PM

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Meet the Governors: Alabama, South Carolina and Washington state at Farnborough

When Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington state ran into Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama on the trade floor at the Farnborough Air Show Monday, a touch of ice might have been expected.

(Below, Gov. Gregoire meets Gov. Bentley at the Farnborough air Show.
Photo: Alex Pietsch, director of Gregoire's aerospace office.)

After all, Washington did pull the U.S. tanker deal away from Alabama in 2011. Then, just a week before the Show, Alabama announced that Mobile will get an Airbus A320 final assembly plant that will compete directly against Boeing's 737 plant in Washington.

As Gov. Gregoire recounts it, the awkwardness was soon overcome.

"He said something to the effect of: Well, now we're opponents," Gregoire recalled. "I said, Oh, no. That's not how I see it."

"You don't think you can build an airplane in Mobile, Alabama, by yourself, do you?" Gregoire told Bentley. "You need suppliers. We have 740 suppliers, many of whom are already doing business with Airbus."

"We're partners," she added.

The two shook hands, and Bentley agreed, as would any southern gentleman.

Gregoire and her counterpart in South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley, both spoke with the Seattle Times on the final day of their visit to the Farnborough Air Show.

Gregoire and Haley are each Governors of states where Boeing is a key industrial player. Yet they are not exactly partners.

Haley is a staunchly anti-union Republican, Gregoire a liberal, labor-friendly Democrat. And though the Boeing facilities in the two states must cooperate to build 787s, they also will in future compete for Boeing work.

Haley gave a short press conference at the South Carolina stand in one of the exhibition halls Tuesday, at the end of two days of meetings with company executives and attendance at three evening receptions.

2012 Nikki Haley.jpg

(Right, Haley speaks in front of a 787 Dreamliner poster at the South Carolina stand at the Farnborough Air Show. My photo.)

A stream of optimism flowed uninterruptedly as Haley spoke about South Carolina and exalted her aggressively pro-business agenda.

"We are the new 'in' state," she declared. "The suppliers love what we're doing."

"The cost of doing business is low. The quality of life is great," Haley said. "We take all government regulation out of the way."

As strong evidence of that last imperative, she added: "I pretty much just wiped out my entire permitting board and replaced it. And the chairman of the board is president of a construction company."

Haley said she's happy for Alabama that Airbus will place its jet plant there.

She recalled that in 1993 BMW set up an auto plant in South Carolina, then Mercedes-Benz did likewise in Alabama in 1997. With the two rival car companies, the auto industry in both states has thrived.

In addition to building cars and planes, she said, South Carolina is the largest producer of tires in the country.

"If anybody thinks that manufacturing is dead in the U.S.,they haven't been to South Carolina," she concluded.

Gregoire spoke after emerging from a meeting the chalet of Airbus parent company EADS with Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas.

She said that the relationship between Washington state and Airbus has made progress since a year ago in Paris.

The European jetmaker spent $200 million last year in the state and Gregoire said the executives told her "they see opportunities to do a lot more."

"Make no mistake, I'm the No. 1 champ for Boeing," said Gregoire. But she wants all comers in the global aerospace world to think of Washington as a center of available talent and skills.

Gregoire said she had multiple meetings at the Show, including with Mitsubishi of Japan, Rolls-Royce of the U.K. ("I had a cappuccino with two Rs on the top. Very cool."), and Spirit Aerosystems of Wichita, Kan.

She met with Boeing CEO Jim McNerney about the forthcoming 777X project and told him she'll "fight tooth and nail" to get it.

She said she identified various opportunities that her aerospace director Alex Pietsch will pursue to encourage various aerospace companies to establish an office or expand in the state.

Airbus is assigning an executive later this year to head research and development in the U.S. "He'll come talk to us," said Gregoire.

This is Gregoire's last Air Show as she prepares to leave office. She believes these trips bring jobs to Washington.

"What advice would I give my successor?" she asked rhetorically, then answered: "Come to every Air Show."


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