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Handicapping the competition: Long Beach a likely contender for Boeing 777X

Boeing’s union Machinists could have locked down thousands of jobs for decades to come if they had voted to approve the eight-year contract extension the company offered.

Those Machinists rejected the contract, and now Boeing has opened up the bidding for the 777X to anyone who wants it.

The company reportedly called up a lawmaker in South Carolina just hours after the vote was announced. KING-TV reports Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R) received a call from Boeing’s Chicago headquarters letting him know it plans to make a proposal to expand its operations.

Meanwhile, the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank Board in South Carolina approved plans Thursday to borrow $550 million for several transportation projects.

Boeing’s Dreamliner is built in South Carolina and the company just broke ground on a propulsion factory to support the 737 MAX. It also has gobbled up hundreds of acres for future expansion.

Governor Jay Inslee understands this is now a competition.

“I’m gratified that we’re in competition,” he said. “We know competition. We’re going to go out and compete.”

But South Carolina isn’t necessarily who Washington should be watching out for. It has enough issues trying to get the 787 program right.

The top contender is likely Long Beach, California.

Boeing has a huge factory in Long Beach that supports more than 2,000 workers. They build the massive C-17 Globemaster cargo plane for militaries around the world, including the Air Force. Boeing plans to close the plant in 2015, leaving it open to transition to 777X production. The workforce there already has years of experience building giant planes full of cutting edge technology.

The Long Beach plant employs union workers, but they are represented by the Auto Workers union. But California doesn’t have the best business climate.

Next on the list is Salt Lake City, Utah. Boeing has multiple facilities there, including a factory that builds the horizontal stabilizers on the 787.

Boeing leaders have reached out to Gov. Gary Herbert. Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, says Herbert received the call Thursday afternoon and has begun preliminary discussions with Boeing leaders.

Marshall Wright, the director of business development in the Utah Governor’s Office, has said Utah has a lot to offer.

“We have a very robust supply chain for the new aerospace industry,” he said during a visit to Everett in October. “Composites are very, very key. We are one of the foremost areas for composites engineering.”

The wings of the 777X will be made of composites.

Huntsville, Alabama, could also be a serious player. Although Boeing doesn’t build planes there, it has 50 years worth of relationships with suppliers in the state that have worked primarily in the space and defense sector. So there would be a serious learning curve for new workers.

The dark horse in this is Texas. Governor Rick Perry is reportedly willing to offer just about anything to land this program.

All of those states will have to match the nearly $9 billion in incentives the Washington Legislature just passed.

So Boeing has a lot of options to consider. To meet its timeline, a decision would likely have to come within the next few months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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