Renton mayor describes ‘devastating’ effect of Boeing 737 MAX crisis

Jul 30, 2019, 9:39 AM
Renton mayor Boeing...
KIRO Radio reporter Carolyn Ossorio sits down with Renton Mayor Denis Law. (Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)
(Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)

The imprint of Boeing on Renton is undeniable from afar, and up close for those who live in Renton.

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Residents often see a steady stream of bluish-green fuselages that trundle, like clockwork on railroad tracks from Kansas through the streets of Renton, making their way to the Boeing plant on the shores of Lake Washington. That’s where 12,000 employees have had a hand in assembling the 737 MAX jets.

With the future of the 737 MAX line in question, Renton Mayor Denis Law provided some insight into what that means for the men and women who build the planes in Renton.

According to Law, the crisis has rocked the city.

“There’s no question it was devastating,” he said. “It was devastating in the fact that over 350 lives were lost in a very short period of time, with two of what we’ve always felt were the best jets built in the entire world. We’ve been proud of bragging to people that every 737 flying throughout the world today was built in our city.”

To recap: Since the grounding in March, Boeing slowed production from 52 737 MAX planes a month, to 42. That’s largely due to the fact that there isn’t anywhere to put those planes that continue to pile up at Renton Airport.

In the 12 years he’s been in office, Mayor Law says he’s had a close working relationship with local Boeing management, but during the crisis, he hasn’t had a lot of contact.

“Quite frankly, we’re working with Boeing on continuing issues that they need to do from a production point of view that impacts or requires city involvement. But they’ve got their hands full; they don’t need me calling them,” he said.

Last week, CEO Dennis Muilenburg told investors the best case scenario is to present a fix to aviation authorities in September, and to have a certification flight in October.
Muilenburg warned that potential delays to that timeline could mean the temporary closure of the Renton plant.

So, what sort of effect would that have on Renton as a whole?

“It’s not going to impact the city of Renton and our operations,” Law explained. “But let’s face it, when you’ve got 10,000 to 12,000 employees that are spending money in the local economy, whether it’s going to restaurants, shopping at Target or Dick’s, or buying a car, that all supports the community. And so that’s important. If that were to happen long-term, we would feel the impacts of that.”

He said in the short-term, Renton can weather the storm, thanks in large part to the city’s popular shopping center, The Landing.

“We have people from all over the region coming to The Landing, so that’s the good news,” he noted. “But, I still don’t want to diminish the fact that there are going to be impacts.”

Renton has done a lot to shine up the image of being a blue-collar town, and that work can be reflected in the biggest development project going on right next door to the company.

Anchored by the Hyatt Regency hotel, Southport is a 17-acre complex projected to bring in 9,000 tech workers. It also boasts apartments and restaurants. Mayor Law feels that a short-term closure from Boeing wouldn’t impact that new development.

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He did say that at this point, his biggest concern was Boeing employees.

“When you’re raising a family and you’re expecting a paycheck and to suddenly be laid off, that’s really difficult for people — that’s the real impact,” said Law. “So hopefully, if it were to happen, it would be for a real short period of time.”

There’s no denying Renton is still a company town, and Mayor Law says the crisis has cut deep.

“I think there’s a lot of sorrow from employees because their company is going through these difficult times,” Law said. “If you were to talk to economists, they’ll make it really clear about how important Boeing has been to the state’s economy and the nation’s economy for so long.”

Years ago, Boeing represented 60 percent of the Renton workforce. Today, it’s 25 percent.

“But nonetheless, it would be a huge loss to the state not to have Boeing continue to have its robust manufacturing in our economy.”

Renton is the eighth largest city in the state, with its population doubling between 2000 and 2016. The city also hosts Paccar, Valley Medical, Kaiser Permanente, and IKEA.

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Renton mayor describes ‘devastating’ effect of Boeing 737 MAX crisis