Boeing chair’s remarks draw fire McNerney weighs moving some operations over Ex-Im inaction

Boeing Co. Chairman Jim McNerney said the Dreamliner maker might move some of its operations out of the country if the Export-Import Bank is not reauthorized by Congress.

Boeing Chairman Jim McNerney’s statement that the 787 maker might move some of its operations to foreign countries if the Export-Import Bank isn’t reauthorized has drawn criticism from another bank supporter — the union that wants to represent workers at Boeing’s North Charleston plant.

“We’ll continue to oppose any plans to move Boeing’s production facilities, from North Charleston or anywhere else,” said Frank Larkin, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists, which is recruiting local Boeing workers for a possible union vote later this year.

Jon Holden, president of the IAM’s branch in Washington state, was more blunt.

“The only Boeing job that should leave this country is his,” Holden said, referring to McNerney, in a Reuters article.

McNerney this week told the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., that he is “beginning to question the strategy of making and designing everything in the United States.”

He said the refusal by Congress to reauthorize the federal Ex-Im Bank, which provides loans and loan guarantees to foreign companies that buy U.S.-made exports, is hurting America’s ability to compete with overseas manufacturers.

The House and Senate could not reach an agreement to resurrect the bank’s charter, which expired July 1, before going on summer recess. While a majority of Congress supports the lender, conservative Republicans have fought reauthorization, calling the bank an example of crony capitalism and corporate welfare.

“It’s a sign of the dysfunctionality of this town now,” McNerney said of the Ex-Im stalemate. “It’s silliness. It’s harming the country.”

Boeing, which makes its Dreamliner jets in North Charleston and Everett, Wash., is the 81-year-old bank’s top customer, though thousands of businesses use the bank every year.

About 60 other countries have banks providing similar financing for exports — including France, where Boeing competitor Airbus is based — and that puts U.S. exports at risk, McNerney said.

“If there’s not an Export-Import Bank, we’re actively considering now moving key pieces of our company to other countries, and we never would have considered that before this craziness on Ex-Im,” he said.

Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia, vice president of The Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., said McNerney’s comments shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

“That’s the kind of thing they say to give their political allies ammunition in the fight for reauthorization.,” Aboulafia said. “Beyond that, it has no meaning. And I doubt there’s much risk of a backlash.”

Scott Hamilton, editor of the aerospace industry newsletter Leeham News & Comment, said he has grown weary of McNerney’s bullying.

“It is very tiring to hear Boeing make job threats every time if it doesn’t get what it wants,” Hamilton said. “But if Jim McNerney thinks Congress is going to cower over this threat, he’s sniffing kerosene.”

McNerney, who retired as Boeing’s CEO as of July 1 but remains chairman, had been chairman of President Barack Obama’s Export Council, which fought to keep the bank open.

“We love making and designing airplanes in the United States,” McNerney said. “It has the best workforce. It has the best education system to underpin a highly qualified workforce. It has, compared to many countries, a very business friendly environment. ... But we are now forced to think about doing it differently.”

The IAM, which canceled a union vote at Boeing’s North Charleston facilities in April, also supports the Ex-Im Bank but said McNerney’s comments were out of line.

“This is one more example of how Jim McNerney operated during his years as Boeing’s CEO — threatening the livelihood of his employees and jeopardizing the communities they live in order to get what he wants,” Holden told Reuters. “Enough is enough. It is time for him to go.”

Larkin said the IAM will continue to push for the bank’s reauthorization. Meanwhile, the union’s “organizing campaign in North Charleston is still active,” with organizers meeting with Boeing employees and local labor allies, he said.

Restoring the Ex-Im Bank has the support of state Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, as well as Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican who represents South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. But with Congress on recess during August, the bank’s future is in limbo until at least this fall.

“Job creators around the country are in a state of disbelief that Congress left town without finishing the important business of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank,” Kate Bernard, spokeswoman for the Exporters for Ex-Im Coalition, said in a statement. “It is irresponsible to think that we can boost job growth while tying one hand behind the backs of exporters and manufacturers.”

McNerney said he will continue to push legislators to reauthorize the bank once they return to Washington.

“There are consequences to this decision,” he said. “I think people just playing politics, they’re not connected to the real world any more. All the money is on the extremes in politics and all the debate in more cases than I’d like to admit is focused more on the money than what’s good for the country.”

Jay White, CEO of Morrison Textile Machinery Co. in Fort Lawn, said legislators opposing the bank “are making it harder for me to grow my business and hire.” He is among several business owners joining Exporters for Ex-Im in calling for reauthorization.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_