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Originally published Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 8:00 PM

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A Genie standing tall in Moses Lake

If Genie is Moses Lake’s Boeing — and in many ways it is — then the SX-180 is Genie’s Dreamliner.

Seattle Times business staff

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MOSES LAKE — There are no 18- or 20-story buildings in this Central Washington flatlands town.

To get 180 feet above ground level, you could board one of the Boeing 787s or Air Force C-17s that fly out of Grant County International Airport.

Or you could just hop onto the work platform of the SX-180 telescopic boom lift that Genie Industries builds here and ride straight up into the sky. The self-propelled boom, billed as the farthest-reaching such machine in the world, will smoothly carry you nearly twice as high as the airport’s control tower.

If Genie is Moses Lake’s Boeing — and in many ways it is — then the SX-180 is Genie’s Dreamliner.

The company’s engineers began designing the machine more than three years ago to leapfrog the competition’s 150-foot boom lift by a decisive margin. Innovations developed along the way are already being incorporated into other equipment painted in Genie’s signature baby-blue.

The first SX-180 will be delivered next month, say executives at Genie, which forms the Aerial Work Platforms unit of heavy-equipment builder Terex. Despite the price tag of $631,580, Genie says it has a full order book from around the globe and plans to build one SX-180 a day, four days a week.

The Moses Lake plant, which builds the SX-180 and other boom lifts, surged back to life with the economy’s rebound. It now employs 1,200 employees, up from 250 workers during the recession’s depths.

It’s “the largest private employer in the county by a longshot,” says Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Grant County Economic Development Council.

Like Boeing, he says, it has engendered a network of supplier companies nearby — metal cutters, tire suppliers and so forth — that otherwise wouldn’t be in the neighborhood.

The airport was once Larson Air Force Base, and the four adjacent hangars that could hold three B-52 bombers apiece were empty when Genie took one over in 1998. The company now fills all four and has 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space. A stream of recent capital improvements is sharpening its lean manufacturing systems; one of the latest is a $6 million powder-coat system for painting the large metal beams that go into its lifts.

The plant’s moving lines require fewer parts, less steps and smaller products than Boeing’s, but involve similar attention to tracking progress and avoiding rework.

Genie also has a Redmond plant that makes scissor lifts and other equipment, employing 1,950.

Global training manager Scott Owyen says one key challenge there is not to lose trained assembly workers to Boeing.

There are also smaller Genie factories in Rock Hill, S.C.; Coventry, UK; Perugia, Italy; and Changzhou, China.

Together they are the largest and most profitable piece of Terex, generating a $254 million profit in the first nine months of 2013 on sales of $1.6 billion.

The SX-180 will mostly be sold to equipment rental companies, which are likely to charge $10,000 to $15,000 a week for its use, said product manager Frank Schneider.

The oil and gas industries, commercial construction or maintenance companies, and wind farms are among the expected users.

A ride in the SX-180 is not as terrifying as might be expected.

Its movements are surprisingly steady, with less lurching or swaying than some elevators. From its full height of 18-plus stories, people on the ground are about the size of a grain of rice dropped on the floor.

And even a 787 Dreamlifter parked a couple hundred yards away distance, with its 56-foot-high tail, looks like a toy.

— Rami Grunbaum:


Pundits’ predictions are a reliable topic at business meetings in January. A rundown from this past week:

Annual job growth in the four-county region will slow to 2.8 percent in 2014 and 2.2 percent in 2015 after peaking at 2.9 percent last year, said Dick Conway, publisher of the Puget Sound Economic Forecaster. Jet production at Boeing has nearly peaked in this cycle and he expects employment to shrink in the short term.

Another key employer to watch is — its hiring spree of 500 people a day globally isn’t sustainable, nor is its prodigious absorption of office space, said Matthew Gardner, a Seattle-based economist. Many other businesses are simply not hiring due to uncertainty about how Congress will resolve longstanding issues, like the federal deficit, he said.

Longer-term, said Gardner, he’s concerned about the Millennials, those born from the early 1980s through the early 2000s, who are carrying the bulk of $1.1 trillion in student-loan debt. That could affect their choices, like buying a home. “We are saddling them with an unconscionable amount of debt,” he said.

Still, pension funds and other institutional investors should keep driving the area’s prices for commercial real-estate higher. Buildings are selling now at prices above the cost to replace them, said Jason Flynn, managing director of Wells Fargo’s Eastdil Secured, a commercial real-estate investment adviser.

The best example: Last fall’s record-breaking sale of Seattle’s 202 Westlake, fully leased by Amazon, came after bids from eight investors — seven of them representing foreign capital, he said. “This has become a really important place to place a flag.”

— Sanjay Bhatt:

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