Boeing recently announced plans to concentrate its information technology work in just a few places. Puget Sound, where the company was founded and based for decades, is one of them; North Charleston, its newest major outpost, is another.
For one locale, the news was a further indication of its rise as a Boeing and tech hub. For the other, the IT reorganization plan was just another data point on a larger Boeing graph with a troubling trajectory.
Can you guess which is which?
Well, in its short time in the Lowcountry, Boeing has built a massive final assembly building, an interiors factory and a delivery center — all for its newest jet, the 787. Late last year, the company bought a set of nearby office buildings and is poised to buy another 320 acres across International Boulevard.
Elsewhere around the region, Google is building another data center, software firm Benefitfocus reportedly is exploring an initial public offering and other tech companies can’t seem to hire fast enough. Boeing’s decision to set up IT “centers of excellence” here is a logical chapter in that narrative.
“Aerospace and advanced security/IT are two of our region’s key industry sector targets,” Charleston Regional Development Alliance CEO David Ginn said in an emailed statement. “We are thankful for Boeing’s continued investment in the community and the ongoing growth of Charleston’s Silicon Harbor.”
In the Northwest, on the other hand, while Boeing is increasing plane production, jobs are either being cut or going elsewhere. On March 22, Boeing told its blue-collar union in the Puget Sound area that there could be 800 layoffs this year. Last week, The Seattle Times reported the IT shift and a plan to move engineering support to California would mean less work there. And then on Thursday, there were reports that Boeing is moving more pilot-training jobs to Miami.
It’s no mystery to longtime Seattle-area Boeing observers who’s winning and who’s losing, or that the presence of unions in Washington and low labor costs in South Carolina have a lot to do with it. “I’m convinced that Boeing is setting Charleston up to be a rival to Puget Sound,” Scott Hamilton of the Issaquah, Wash.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham Co said last week.
A decade ago, Charleston’s aerospace and tech industries were nothing compared to Seattle’s. But given the current trends, who knows, maybe in a couple of decades, rivals they’ll be.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_ brendan.