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

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When he was campaigning for the office of governor, candidate Robert Bentleyessentially said that if elected he would make his tenure all about creatingjobs. So it is understandable that he is going all out to persuade Boeing tobuild its new 777X aircraft here instead of the state of Washington.

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

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

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

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

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

Missouri, for instance, already has called a special session of the Legislatureto 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 becheap for Alabama.

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

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

Despite the odds, Bentley is correct to make Boeing a priority. But even ifAlabama succeeds in attracting the aircraft company to the state, the jobs itbrings 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 inAlabama," he said in a campaign position paper. ("PuttingAlabamians Back to Work", December 2009.) He made the promise againduring his inaugural address.

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

According to current data on the Alabama Department of Labor's website,Alabama's seasonally adjusted employment in January 2011 -- the month Bentleytook office -- was  1,995,143.  In October, the latest month forwhich numbers are available, the seasonally adjusted employment number was1,992,986. 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 jobgrowth is healthy, and they probably get too much blame when the numbers aredown. But Bentley chose to make jobs the watchword of his administration, so itis proper for Alabamians to use the goal he set forth as one of the primarymeasures of the success of his administration.

Alabama children lose a true champion

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

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

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

As a newspaper editorial page editor and as a WSFA columnist, I treasured Lindaas a trusted source on children's issues -- always knowledgeable and willing togo 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 thelives of countless Alabama children.  We wish her good luck and Godspeed.


Ken Hare was a longtime Alabamanewspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regularcolumn for WSFA's web site. Email him at

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