Ten minutes into his interview with Boeing, John Tanner was offered a job. So was his wife, Cheri.
Boeing moved the couple and their 10-year-old daughter from their East Coast home to Issaquah, Wash., and even arranged for Cheri to continue her graduate studies in engineering.
Hans Smit didn’t even have to leave the Netherlands to land his job with Boeing’s Renton division. The company came to him and hired him on the spot.
Smit and the Tanners are among more than 20,000 people Boeing recruited in 1996 - the first year the company ever advertised its jobs worldwide.
“The pace of hiring is the highest (for Boeing) since the jet age,” company spokesman Bob Jorgensen said.
Since the end of 1995, when it had 105,185 employees, Boeing’s work force has grown 40 percent, including about 21,000 former employees of Rockwell International who were absorbed in December.
Since April, when the hiring boom started, Boeing has processed about 1,500 new employees a month. At one point last summer, it was hiring workers at a rate of 500 a day.
The hiring spree was spurred by an improved outlook for the airline industry and a subsequent rising demand for passenger jets.
As Boeing scrambled to meet that demand and began work on several key defense projects, it hired about 20,150 people in 1996, bringing its total work force to nearly 147,000.
The new hires and the absorbed Rockwell workers are the most employees Boeing has added in any single year since 1966, when the payroll swelled 25 percent with the addition of 24,779 local workers.
The influx of workers to Boeing plants in the Seattle area was a major driver of the local economy. According to a survey by Arizona State University, non-agricultural jobs here grew more than 6.5 percent in the year that ended in October, leading job growth in the nation’s major metropolitan areas.
And the number of new jobs was nearly triple what Boeing predicted in its 1996 employment forecast. The 1997 forecast is expected in the next few weeks.
The pace of hiring soared so quickly in 1996 that Boeing had to revise its employment forecast twice.
In Washington alone, it had hired nearly 16,000 people as of Dec. 12, bringing the local work force to 87,500. Boeing’s hiring also was a key factor in boosting state manufacturing jobs by 11.9 percent, a higher rate of increase than any other state, the ASU study said.
Washington’s chief economic forecaster, Chang Mook Sohn, predicts the company will add 11,000 workers this year, with employment stabilizing in 1998.
Boeing executives say the hiring growth will slow, especially in light of company plans to acquire McDonnell Douglas.
“My anticipation is there will be growth (in 1997), but it will not be at the rate we had (in 1996),” Chief Executive Officer Phil Condit said. “Things will slow down significantly.”
Boeing’s 1996 hiring campaign took recruiters as far as Ireland, France and the Netherlands. The company even searched for workers in cyberspace: Last summer, it juiced up its Web site (www.boeing.com) so applicants could send resumes online. It has received more than 17,000 since.
Boeing also used radio and newspaper campaigns to advertise jobs.
To entice East Coast workers in one radio ad, Boeing offered free Starbucks lattes with every job.
“What you’re about to hear isn’t a radio commercial,” the announcer said. “It’s a radio coupon, and it’s good for one free caffe latte … in Seattle. Yeah, I know Seattle is a long way to go for a latte, but you might also get a job.”
Newspaper ads touted Seattle as a good place to live, describing “cozy” neighborhoods, good schools, three major-league sports teams, mountains, trees and Puget Sound.
The ads helped sell John and Cheri Tanner, who arrived from Virginia in September.
John Tanner, who had been with NASA for 33 years, said he wanted to put his engineering skills to use in the private sector. He’s now a principal engineer in mechanical/hydraulic systems for Boeing’s Everett division. Cheri Tanner is a senior engineer in Renton.
To handle the new hires, Boeing’s employment center has added 200 people and started a second shift.
The company is hiring in all pay codes and skill categories, but 62 percent of new hires are hourly workers. Engineers and technical personnel make up about 22 percent of all the new workers.
Boeing’s urgent needs for engineers, managers and production workers was sparked by a torrent of orders for planes. After years of painful cuts, the company announced six production-rate increases in 1996 in response to airline orders running high above 1995’s order pace.
All this hiring is good news for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about a third of Boeing’s employees. Almost all eligible union members laid off in the past few years have been recalled.