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Originally published October 28, 2009 at 2:38 PM | Page modified October 28, 2009 at 4:46 PM

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On the Economy

Who's to blame for losing the second 787 line?

The crime has gone down. South Carolina, not Washington, will get the second 787 line and perhaps much more. So round up the usual suspects...

Special to The Seattle Times

The crime has gone down. South Carolina, not Washington, will get the second 787 line and perhaps much more. So round up the usual suspects and lay out the charges.

• The Machinists: Da lazy, overpaid union goons refused to give Boeing the labor stability it needed to compete in a global market.

Reality: Unions are often inept at slickly framing issues, so they usually come out as the bad guys. In retrospect, the Machinists overreached with their 2008 strike, giving Boeing executives a good excuse to do what they already were inclined to: Seek a nonunion place to grow. Meanwhile, whether national or local negotiators were to blame, the refusal to accept a no-strike agreement was a blunder. Capital, not labor, holds power now, and union leaders should have been focused on preserving jobs and buying time rather than engaging in 1958 tactics.

• The governor: Chris Gregoire was passive and late to the game, while South Carolina aggressively courted Boeing and approved special incentives to make the deal happen.

Reality: Sadly, true. Gregoire especially stumbled by not using her credibility with the union to force it to give Boeing the assurance it sought.

Washington's bad business climate: This is an expensive, high tax, high regulation state. Expect more companies to flee.

Reality: Washington has one of the nation's better business climates, and it has been hurt much less by the Great Recession than most. Boeing received special tax breaks and other incentives to build the original 787 line here. Can the climate be made better? Yes. But that won't happen by trying to lower the living standards and quality of life of Washingtonians to those of a poor Southern state. This is a high-quality state, and quality costs money. But it's competing in a hungry world with an oversupply of labor.

Boeing: This is not your parents' innovative, Seattle-centric Boeing. It's been taken over by a McDonnell Douglas do-it-on-the-cheap culture. Engineering and research and development were given a back seat to marketers and bean counters. It has no loyalty to the Puget Sound region.

Reality: Again, sadly true. Boeing is making a big mistake, and not just because of the hurricanes that tend to slam into Charleston. The former Vought plant acquired by Boeing as its Carolina beachhead was one of the worst epicenters of outsourced Dreamliner crackups. Expect a busy pipeline of Puget Sound-area employees flying to North Charleston to try to make this gambit work, and in the process slowly eliminate their own jobs. (Tip: Enjoy the rocking chairs at the Charlotte airport while waiting for your commuter connection).

Boeing's top executives bear the biggest blame for delays on the Dreamliner, the 747-8, the original scandal-sunk tanker contract, and Boeing's tarnished reputation. So far, they have evaded accountability.

Such is the lineup. You can decide who should be convicted.

Tomorrow, the Puget Sound region wakes up to a new competitive reality and the question of how to leverage one of the world's great aerospace talent clusters. Maybe it's time to court Airbus.

You may reach Jon Talton at

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Jon Talton comments on economic trends and turning points, putting them into context with people, place and the environment in the Pacific Northwest



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