Monday, July 20, 2009

Trash talk won’t win Boeing battle

Trash talk doesn’t win games. It can feel good, rally the fans and rattle a rookie opponent. But it doesn’t put points on the board.

Last week Boeing announced that it had agreed to purchase a South Carolina plant with capacity to spare. Although Boeing officials maintain that no decision has been made regarding the second production line for the troubled 787, the announcement spurred speculation. And, it got our governor talking a little trash about folks down South.

“You can go to South Carolina and pay peanuts and you can get that in return,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire. “That’s not what Boeing’s about. Boeing’s about quality.”

If Washington is going to retain good jobs, we cannot underestimate the competition. Home team cheerleading aside, the governor’s comments could backfire by feeding outdated stereotypes and reinforcing the Northwest’s too often deserved reputation for smug complacency, potentially undermining her efforts to make the state more competitive.

South Carolina is no rookie competitor and, far from Dogpatch, Charleston recently appeared on National Geographic magazine’s list of the 50 best places to live, along with several Washington cities.

In 2008, the Charleston metro area ranked 10th on the Milken Institute’s list of best cities for job creation, behind Olympia and Tacoma, but ahead of Seattle. Inc. magazine calls it one of the best cities for doing business.

All this comes from last December’s Charleston profile in The Economist, which also highlighted the region’s high concentration of industrial engineers and rapidly growing information technology sector. In addition to BMW’s only North American assembly plant, the state’s industrial base includes Michelin, Fujifilm, 3M, ArborGen, Eastman Chemical and other internationally recognized employers.

They’re not paying peanuts. They are getting quality. With the recession pushing South Carolina’s unemployment rate over 12 percent, the state welcomes new investment. One of the few firms capable of generating its own gravitational pull, Boeing would quickly anchor a constellation of related business activity. More here.

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