Ken Hare In Depth: Boeing a long shot, but still worth pursuing - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Ken Hare In Depth: Boeing a long shot, but still worth pursuing

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

When he was campaigning for the office of governor, candidate Robert Bentley essentially said that if elected he would make his tenure all about creating jobs. So it is understandable that he is going all out to persuade Boeing to build its new 777X aircraft here instead of the state of Washington.

So far, the governor's stated goal of creating 250,000 additional jobs seems unattainable in the final year remaining on his current term of office. In fact, the number of people employed in Alabama remains essentially what it was when Bentley took office in January 2011.

So the governor needs a big win such as Boeing to add some credence to his job creation promise as he begins his campaign for re-election.

But Boeing remains a long shot. Alabama is not only competing with a host of other states, but it remains possible that Boeing will decide to keep its production line for the new 777X in Washington state.

It appeared that Washington had the production line locked up until a few months ago, when union workers there rejected a request from Boeing for concessions to their contracts. The hard feelings created by that rejection and the union's harsh rhetoric caused Boeing to start looking around for another place to build the new version of the successful 777 aircraft.

To say the competition is fierce would be putting it mildly. States where Boeing already has production lines, such as California, South Carolina and Alabama, are being joined by other states in competing for the jobs that Boeing would bring. Only Boeing knows just how many states are making a bid to land this product line, but it is probably at least a dozen, according to news reports.

Missouri, for instance, already has called a special session of the Legislature to consider an incentive package worth $1.7 billion over the next two decades. So while the company obviously will consider factors other than just incentives -- location, work force, transportation, etc. --  landing Boeing won't be cheap for Alabama.

It's also possible that Boeing is just using this competition as a way to hammer down opposition to concessions by unions in Washington state, and if the unions decide to meet the company half way, then it is possible the 777X product line will remain there.

One industry analyst recently estimated the odds of the product line staying in Washington state at 89 percent, with Charleston, S.C., as a new location at 10 percent, and the remaining states having a combined 1 percent chance of attracting the 777X line. But the analyst said those odds were based on the hard factors involved, such as location, cost of building a new plant, labor costs, etc., and did not take into account the bitterness that appears to exist between Boeing executives and union leaders in Washington state.

Despite the odds, Bentley is correct to make Boeing a priority. But even if Alabama succeeds in attracting the aircraft company to the state, the jobs it brings would only put a dent in his goal of 250,000 new jobs.

"My goal as governor is to stimulate the creation of 250,000 new jobs in Alabama," he said in a campaign position paper. ("Putting Alabamians Back to Work", December 2009.) He made the promise again during his inaugural address.

Frankly, Bentley's goal of 250,000 new jobs in Alabama probably was unrealistic when he made it. But with the number of employed Alabamians still stuck at around 2  million people, about where it was when he took office three years ago, the chances of meeting that goal in the final year of his term seems out of reach.

According to current data on the Alabama Department of Labor's website, Alabama's seasonally adjusted employment in January 2011 -- the month Bentley took office -- was  1,995,143.  In October, the latest month for which numbers are available, the seasonally adjusted employment number was 1,992,986. That October number is probably skewed by the government shutdown, but job growth in Alabama over the past three years still has been anemic. (Keep in mind that Alabama needs almost a half a percentage point  increase in jobs each year just to keep up with population growth.)

Governors probably get too much credit when the economy is booming and job growth is healthy, and they probably get too much blame when the numbers are down. But Bentley chose to make jobs the watchword of his administration, so it is proper for Alabamians to use the goal he set forth as one of the primary measures of the success of his administration.

Alabama children lose a true champion

For 17 years, Linda Tilly has been one of the most outspoken and articulate champions for children in Alabama. She is officially retiring this month as executive director of Voices for Alabama's Children.

Her leadership helped to make Voices a force for improving conditions for children in this state. During her tenure, Voices played major roles in pushing for health insurance coverage for children, in creating child death review teams, and in strengthening child passenger and teen driver safety laws.

She also has been a strong advocate for high quality pre-kindergarten programs in Alabama.

 As a newspaper editorial page editor and as a WSFA columnist, I treasured Linda as a trusted source on children's issues -- always knowledgeable and willing to go on the record, even if her comments might make the powers that be uncomfortable.

Linda can retire knowing that she made a huge and positive difference in the lives of countless Alabama children.  We wish her good luck and Godspeed.

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Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at khare@wsfa.com.

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