As I See It

With Boeing, Missouri looks ahead to build the next big thing

Updated: 2013-12-17T23:51:19Z


Special to The Star

Fifty-five years ago this week, at the height of our space race with the Soviet Union, NASA received proposals from 12 companies for the development of our nation’s first manned spacecraft. The winner was the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. of St. Louis.

Engineers and workers right here in the Show-Me State designed and built 20 space capsules and achieved what no one had thought possible just a few years before: putting a man in space.

Over the years, McDonnell became McDonnell-Douglas, and McDonnell-Douglas became Boeing. As the headquarters of Boeing Defense, St. Louis has continued to burnish its reputation for building the aircraft that pushed the boundaries of science to keep our men and women in uniform safe and our nation strong.

Today, there’s another aerospace competition underway, with different contenders. Its outcome will have a powerful and lasting effect on this region and the future of the aerospace industry in our state.

Using new technologies — including wings made of carbon composite instead of aluminum — the 777X will be the largest, most fuel efficient twin-engine jet in the world. At last month’s Dubai Air Show, Boeing took orders worth $100 billion for this high-tech aircraft, doubling the haul of Airbus, its heavily subsidized European competitor.

In the process of building this next-generation jet, Boeing will create thousands of advanced manufacturing jobs, construct multibillion-dollar facilities and establish expansive supply chains.

When Boeing decided to look outside of Seattle for production of the 777X, Missouri faced a simple choice. It could compete to bring the 777X, and the thousands of jobs that would come with it, to Missouri. Or it could sit this one out, and watch this transformative project pass us by.

To me, and the Missourians I heard from across the state, the choice was clear. From the F-150 to the F-18, here in Missouri we don’t just build big things: We build the next big thing. And when it comes to historic opportunities to create thousands of family supporting jobs and supersize our manufacturing industry, we compete and we compete to win.

In a matter of days, a strong statewide coalition came together and sent a clear message that Missouri was open for business.

Community colleges committed to training and certifying thousands of graduates in aerospace and advanced manufacturing. Labor groups agreed to build Boeing’s facilities on a 24-hour work schedule and forgo overtime. And just one week after my call for a special session, Republicans and Democrats passed legislation to help put forward a competitive proposal without jeopardizing vital public services like education, or putting taxpayers at risk.

Senate Bill 1 provides additional capacity to four of Missouri’s existing economic development programs. The way these programs work is that companies must invest and create jobs first; only then are they eligible to defray the cost of that investment and job creation by keeping a portion of the new revenue they generate.

If a business like Boeing decides not to move forward with a project, Missouri pays nothing. If the business doesn’t create all the jobs it promises, it only gets credit for the workers actually hired. And because each project is required by state law to show a net positive return on investment, the more jobs we bring to our communities, the more dollars we can invest in our K-12 classrooms.

A half century after Missouri engineers helped put our nation on the path to winning the space race, Missouri has another rare opportunity to make aerospace history by building the next generation of commercial aircraft. By working together in a bipartisan, fiscally responsible way, we are in a strong position to seize it.

Let’s stay in the game.

Jay Nixon, a Democrat, is the governor of Missouri.

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