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Boeing puts up for sale its Commercial Airplanes headquarters campus outside Seattle

Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has several times reiterated that on the other side of the pandemic, Boeing will be a smaller company in a shrunken market.

"COVID-19 hit the commercial aviation industry hard, and this is a different time," Chun said Monday. "Our business has changed and we are changing too."

Yet however dire the current circumstances, there is an undeniable longer term pattern of Boeing shrinking its presence here.

In the last eight years, the Boeing workforce here has shrunk from 87,000 to less than 57,000.

That's in part due to a deliberate policy of sending thousands of engineering jobs from here to other Boeing sites in South Carolina, Missouri and California. After one of those moves shifted engineering support for airline customers to Seal Beach, Calif., Boeing in 2018 sold off the two big office towers in Tukwila that had previously housed that work.

And of course, the intense debate over Boeing's future here goes back to 2001, when the company moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago.

So it's unsurprising many here doubt Boeing's commitment to the region where it was born more than a century ago.

The reality is that the long-term future of aerospace in Washington state will be definitively decided by Boeing's choice of a manufacturing location when it launches its next new airplane, probably in three to four years.

Regular statements by Boeing executives that they remain committed to this region fall short of full assurance without any indication of how that future airplane decision will go.

Yet Boeing repeatedly has declined, and did so again in exchanges on Monday, to offer its local employees and the broader community a morale boost with a firm commitment that it will build its next jet here.

The consensus among aviation experts and former Boeing executives is that the company's leadership won't ever make such a definitive commitment because it would mean giving up leverage over the local unions.

Boeing spokesperson Jessica Kowal noted the company's $1 billion investment in the 777X composite wing center in Everett and the previous investments in new jet delivery centers in Everett and at Boeing Field.

And she pointed out that Boeing will be making the MAX in Renton at least through 2031, when Southwest Airlines will take the last delivery from its recent 100-plane order.

"This is evidence of our long-term commitment to the region," Kowal said.

Goodbye to Longacres

 

Tuesday's move to put the Longacres headquarters on the market was expected. Chun telegraphed the expected sale in October.

And last month, employees formerly based at the headquarters campus in Renton were instructed to clear out their stuff. Tuesday morning, they got a memo confirming what was already clear: they won't be going back.

The spacious headquarters campus in Renton was built 30 years ago on the site of the former Longacres horse-racing track.

It has 855,000 square feet of office space in two big, glass-walled buildings — the Commercial Airplanes headquarters and the company's even larger flight training center — set amid landscaped lawns and a large lake, with sizable parking lots for each building.

Limousines often delivered VIP airline representatives from around the world to visit the Commercial Airplanes leadership and sales staff at the headquarters building.

This impressive corporate showcase stands incongruously apart and just out of sight of the nearby Southcenter Mall and the sprawl of Renton auto sales lots, retail outlets and fast-food joints just down the road.

The site's out-of-the-way location often surprised airline leaders who came to pick up an airplane in Seattle only to be driven miles through a down-market suburban landscape to meet Boeing's leaders far from the downtown skyscrapers of the global city they anticipated.

Inside, Boeing displayed expensive gifts from Middle Eastern and Asian customers to mark multibillion-dollar jet sales and relationships forged through decades of deal-making.

Kowal said those corporate trophy displays will be parceled out to various sites: to the sales team's new office in Renton, to the airplane delivery centers in Everett, Seattle and South Carolina, as well as to some of the company's overseas sales offices.

The flight training center once hosted pilots from all over the world who came to train on full-motion flight simulators for Boeing's jets — until Boeing moved the simulators to Miami in 2013.

Since then, various teams have moved into that building, which was still used also for classroom training of airline maintenance technicians.

Kowal said Boeing will continue that training elsewhere in its Puget Sound facilities and will also offer more virtual training.

Corporate filings show that in 1993 Boeing owned 45 million square feet of factory and office space in the Puget Sound region and leased a further 9 million square feet.

When this latest round of property divestment is complete, Boeing's footprint here will be down to 35.5 million square feet.

©2021 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.