Here’s the solution to all — well, almost all — of our economic problems.
Let’s get on the phone, call Boeing and stay on the line until we can talk to the CEO. And let’s ask him to build his new jet manufacturing facility here in Colorado Springs.
Despite an $8 billion, 20-year retention package offered by the state of Washington, Boeing is peeved because the machinists’ union there refused to ratify a new contract. It would have cut pension benefits and given every machinist a $10,000 bonus in exchange for a long-term commitment to build the next-generation 777X at the company’s Washington factories.
The day after that union’s vote, Boeing contacted officials in at least four states to inquire whether they’d be interested in responding to a site selection request for proposals.
As the Washington Post reported last week, state officials went berserk. Such a facility would bring tens of thousands of jobs and billions in capital investment to the successful bidder. Citing anonymous sources, the Post said government-backed entities in Utah, Texas, South Carolina and Missouri were preparing bids, to be submitted by Dec. 10.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was sanguine, bragging that he was the first person contacted by the company, while South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley noted that Boeing is “a great corporate friend of South Carolina.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called that state’s legislature into special session to approve a hastily crafted $150 million incentive package, while Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper did … nothing.
Why not Colorado Springs? It sounds like a match made in heaven.
Our city isn’t exactly a hotbed of union activity, and local governments are notably business-friendly. We have a respectable, if underused, airport with a super-long runway and 1,000 acres of adjacent land available for manufacturing. Add our low cost of living, our skilled workforce, our competitive electric rates, our extraordinary setting at the foot of Pikes Peak and our healthful climate … we should win!
Think we can’t beat Utah (the state for all practical purposes is closed after 6 p.m. and during weekends), South Carolina (mosquitos and tea partiers), Missouri (so dumb they gave Colorado an extra down in a certain famous football game) or Texas (drought, drought and Gov. Rick Perry).
Actually, no, we can’t. And the fault, dear fellow Coloradans, is not in ourselves, but in our laws.
“South Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Utah — they’re all right-to-work states,” said Joe Raso, Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance CEO. “[Companies like Boeing] will never say so, but that’s one of the first check-offs. If you don’t get past that, you’re out of the running. I spent 18 years in a right-to-work state, and we used that very successfully against competitors that weren’t RTW.”
(For those who don’t know, right-to-work states prevent unions from being able to require membership as a condition of employment.)
Would it be like Kansas bidding to host the Winter Olympics? Kansas City might be a perfect site, except for the mountain part.
“I don’t think Kansas will get the Games,” said an amused Raso. “The first rule is this: Know yourself. What are you, and what can you build on? For us, we have the United States Olympic Committee, the growth of UCCS, the Air Force Academy and downtown. That’s what we have to build on.”
So we won’t see any sparkling new 777Xs rolling out of vast new hangars, ready to be christened by Mayor Jill Gaebler in 2022? Probably not, but we still might get some Boeing jobs.
“There’s no reason they couldn’t move some design and engineering assets out here,” Raso continued, “We have a number of companies here (most defense-related) which do exactly that.”
So rather than slavering like hungry dogs over a giant bone we’re not going to get, we should build on what we have. Raso didn’t have to spell it out — that means crossing our fingers and hoping that the state greenlights City for Champions.
If so, it’ll be a giant win for a city that hasn’t had one for a long while. It will vindicate the judgment of those who pushed through the USOC retention package despite a compromised, awkward process that only ended when the city funded the deal by pawning a fire station and the Police Operations Center.
It may even put an end to the bitter fights among the Keith King-led Council majority, the Council minority and Mayor Steve Bach. It’s hard to imagine that our city’s “five horsemen of the apocalypse” will continue to oppose a suddenly robust C4C project.
It’s one thing to harrumph and posture about taking on more debt — and quite another to throw away $50 million in state funding. And if the not-so-fab five still don’t get it, too bad. The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.