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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

If Boeing builds new jetliner in Washington, Spokane manufacturers would benefit, leaders say

Noel Schultz, left, and Rick Bender, right, get a tour of the Aviation Maintenance Technology program at Spokane Community College from aviation instructor Andy Dodson, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. Boeing is considering whether to design and build an all-new aircraft dubbed the new Mid-Market Airplane. Schultz and Bender are co-chairs of the Choose Washington New Mid-Market Airplane Council. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

If Boeing builds a new, mid-sized airplane in Washington, Spokane could land high-paying manufacturing jobs.

Aerospace is already a $270 million industry in Spokane County, employing about 4,300 people. Many of those workers have jobs at companies that make parts for Boeing’s massive supply chain as part of its client mix.

“Spokane has one of the largest aerospace clusters in the nation,” Rick Bender, the Washington State Labor Council’s former president, said during a stop here Tuesday.

“We’re hoping if we land this new, mid-market airplane, it will help expand existing jobs and attract new aerospace businesses,” he said.

With aerospace-related work paying about $63,000 per year in Spokane County, “these are good, family-wage jobs,” Bender said.

Analysts expect Boeing to decide later this year or early next year whether to build the jetliner, informally called the 797. If the project moves forward, the company would also select a manufacturing location.

With billions of dollars and hundreds of jobs at stake, Boeing is likely to receive competitive bids from other states. Washington officials are trying to ensure that Boeing builds the new plane in its native state.

Gov. Jay Inslee created a Choose Washington council to help make the state’s pitch to Boeing.

Bender is a co-chair for the council along with Noel Schulz, a Washington State University electrical engineering professor and the wife of WSU President Kirk Schulz. Robin Toth of Greater Spokane Incorporated also is a member.

On Tuesday, Bender, Noel Schulz and Toth toured Spokane Community College’s aircraft maintenance program at Felts Field and talked to students and instructors in other manufacturing trades.

SCC’s programs provide a pipeline for skilled labor in the area, and state officials have been touting workforce training programs when they talk to Boeing executives.

Boeing unveiled an image of the mid-market plane at last year’s Paris Air Show. With room for 220 to 270 passengers and travel distances of about 5,200 nautical miles, the plane would fill a niche for Boeing.

The new plane would travel longer distances than the company’s 737 airliners, which are designed for short to medium-length flights. But it would be less costly to operate than the 787 Dreamliner, which is intended for long-haul travel.

Flying from the East Coast to Europe would be possible on the mid-market plane. It would also connect U.S. destinations.

“The new airplane will open up new routes for the airlines,” said Brian Bonlender, director of the state Department of Commerce, who also was on the SCC tour.

Boeing officials are indicating “they’re going to build this, even though there hasn’t been an official announcement,” he said.

In Washington’s pitch for the new airplane, state officials also mention the chain of experienced aerospace suppliers and existing infrastructure as factors that will help Boeing reduce costs and delays, Bonlender said.

“The new plant is going to be the future of manufacturing,” he said. “Our job as the state is to make sure that we continue to lead the world for aerospace for the next 100 years, as we did for the last 100 years.”