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Originally published June 18, 2013 at 4:38 PM | Page modified June 19, 2013 at 10:34 AM

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Guest: Boeing’s exodus from Washington state

If action isn’t taken we will see jobs like these continue flying off into the horizon, writes guest columnist Mike Hewitt.

Special to The Times

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WE recently learned Boeing will be moving some engineers and technical professionals to other parts of the country. The news comes at a time when the world’s focus is on aerospace, with this week’s Paris Air Show and last Friday’s inaugural flight of the Airbus A350 — the rival to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

Moving jobs is a continuation of the company’s steady migration out of Washington state and the latest in a series of wake-up calls that demonstrate an urgent need for lawmakers to improve our state’s business climate.

Boeing is the largest employer in our state. It currently employs more than 15,000 engineers here, with an average annual salary over $100,000. More than 7,000 individuals are employed in technical professions at an average salary of $86,000. These are family-wage jobs that other states covet, and some of the very same jobs that will be leaving Washington.

Within a year, Boeing will make a decision on where its new 787-10 Dreamliner will be built. Some believe they may be leaning toward assembling the planes in South Carolina. A key Boeing executive was ominously noncommittal when asked about the possibility this week.

During former Gov. Gary Locke’s tenure, Boeing’s corporate headquarters and hundreds of jobs were moved to Chicago. On former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s watch, production work and thousands of jobs were shifted to South Carolina. Gov. Jay Inslee came into office promising to bring a “new proactive vision” for securing the workforce needs of our state’s aerospace industry, which he rightly noted is the “best the world has ever seen.”

This is why, like many people, I was disappointed to hear the governor’s aerospace lead Alex Pietsch downplay the importance of Boeing engineers and technical professionals being moved to other states, saying, “It doesn’t mean the sky is falling” because Boeing is “just diversifying.”

I don’t know that the sky is falling quite yet, but make no mistake: If action isn’t taken we will see jobs like these continue flying off into the horizon. The governor’s response to this crisis, like his predecessor’s, is simply not adequate.

As a state senator and former member of the Washington Council on Aerospace, I value Boeing and what the company means to our state. But more is at stake than just one company. Boeing’s announcement is only a symptom of what’s wrong with Washington’s business climate. What’s needed is not action taken to appease one company. We need to make our state a desirable destination for all businesses.

There are serious issues to be addressed. By any measure, Washington’s unemployment rate remains unacceptably high. Our industrial-insurance rates are the highest in the nation and we return fewer injured workers to the job than any other state. Education reform is an integral part of this as well, as we’re not properly preparing the next generation of students for today’s workplace.

Our state must unite — Republicans and Democrats; labor and business groups — and fight for family-wage jobs. We need to take steps to make our state more competitive in order to retain employers who are already here, and successfully recruit those who would consider moving to Washington.

Creating an environment where businesses thrive and job creation flourishes is in everyone’s interest. Making our workers’ compensation and unemployment-insurance programs more efficient is something we all benefit from.

We can work together to move our state forward because it has happened before. During a special session in 2003 the Legislature adopted landmark unemployment-insurance reform. That helped our state secure the first 787 line and the thousands of direct and indirect jobs that came with it.

We should look at Boeing as a bellwether, a gauge of not just the state’s aerospace industry, but our broader business climate. If we want to protect family-wage jobs and the quality of life we enjoy in Washington, then we need to show leadership and take action now.

State Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is a member of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and a former member of the Washington Council on Aerospace.

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