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Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - Page updated at 05:39 PM


Information in this story, originally published March 21, 2006, was corrected March 22, 2006. A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized the plane flight that took place in Seattle 82 years before Boeing decided to move its headquarters out of the city in 2001. The flight was the first Boeing commercial flight.

Chicago's got the headquarters, but Seattle's still Jet City, USA

Seattle Times business reporter

When Boeing executives declared they were pulling up stakes, Seattle seemed ready for the sky to fall. It never did.

In hindsight, the move to Chicago didn't do Boeing as much good as anticipated. And it didn't do Seattle as much harm, either. The blow that many expected to inflict permanent wounds on Seattle's psyche turned out to be short-lived.

"It took a little therapy, but we recovered," historian Walt Crowley said.

What shook Seattle's image was not just Boeing headquarters' move but also the dot-com bomb, Nisqually earthquake and Mardi Gras riot that preceded it.

The news came as a painful sting to the home of the first commercial plane flight 82 years earlier.

In Seattle, "the identification with Boeing was almost congenital," Crowley said.

But the city weaned on Boeing has grown up, he said.

"Economically and culturally, our identity is much more diversified and complex than it used to be," Crowley said.

To Gen-Xer Nicole Vogel, a Houston native who is publisher of Seattle Metropolitan magazine, the city's close association with Boeing seems "more of a yesteryear" thing.

She links Seattle's image these days to younger movers and shakers like Amazon and Microsoft.

What they said March 22, 2001

"It's like a couple that's been married for 85 years deciding to divorce."

— Chang Mook Sohn, state's chief economist

"I'm waiting for the locusts."

— Seattle Mayor Paul Schell

Perhaps the place where top executives work doesn't really define a company that builds planes anyway. Its heart is in the hangar.

That's why China's president will visit Seattle to kick the tires at a factory next month, before flying past Chicago on his way to D.C.

Boeing's roots have proved resilient.

"Boeing gave you all these brilliant minds who started an environment of nerds and geniuses that was very much part of the culture here," Vogel said.

Corporate headquarters come and go, but "this is where it all began," she said. "It's still ingrained in the history."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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