Boeing Co. stunned its hometown by announcing it is moving its headquarters out of Seattle, where the aircraft manufacturing giant was founded 85 years ago.
Chairman and Chief Executive Phil Condit said Wednesday Boeing is considering Chicago, Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth. It hopes to choose the site by early summer and have it running by fall.
Condit said the move is intended to save money and give the world’s No. 1 maker of passenger jets a headquarters central to its operations, now spread over 26 states.
Hundreds of Layoffs, But No Plant Closures
The company’s huge jet manufacturing plants will remain in the Seattle area, as will much of its research and development work.
Condit said less than half the 1,000 employees working at its Seattle corporate center will be moved to the new headquarters. The others will be transferred to other departments or may be laid off, he said.
The announcement shocked community and labor leaders.
While the move might not have a major economic impact on Seattle, Mayor Paul Schell and Gov. Gary Locke publicly pleaded with Boeing to reconsider.
“I will do all I can to help them change their minds,” Schell said.
“I am surprised and deeply sorry to see any part of the Boeing Co. leave Washington state,” Locke said. “While the bulk of the Boeing family remains with us, to lose the corporate leadership of this company leaves a void in our economic and cultural life.”
Washington State’s Top Private Employer
Boeing is Washington state’s biggest private employer, with 78,400 people in the Seattle area alone. Worldwide, it has 198,900 workers, with operations in St. Louis, Southern California and Ridley Park, Pa.
It was founded in 1916 by timber scion William Boeing, who initially built wooden seaplanes.
The company defined Seattle and its culture for much of the 20th century. Its plants built the bombers that helped win World War II; its designers invented the jetliners that revolutionized global travel; its international prestige gave the city its claim as a hub of the Pacific economy.
But its operations became more far-flung in the 1990s as Boeing absorbed longtime rival McDonnell Douglas and the space divisions of North American Rockwell.
Move Part of Reorganization
The headquarters needs “to be in a location central to our operating units, customers and the financial community — but separate from our existing operations,” Condit said.
As part of the reorganization, Condit also is promoting the heads of Boeing’s three major divisions — commercial airplanes, military aircraft and missiles, and space and communications — to chief executive officers, with the goal of giving those divisions more autonomy and encouraging them to grow.
Boeing’s white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, expressed regret over the decision to move.
“We feel that Boeing is part of the Pacific Northwest and part of the fundamental character of the community,” said Craig Buckham, union president. “For 85 years, it has been the heart and soul of the Pacific Northwest culture and economy.”
Residents expressed worry that the loss of Boeing’s headquarters could leave a void.
“I’ve had better days,” said Peter Donnelly, president of the Corporate Council for the Arts in Seattle. “Boeing is our largest Contributor — $400,000 a year. The surprise here is clearly very, very, very profound.”
Psychological Message: Boeing Can Evolve
Analyst Robert Toomey at Dain Rauscher-PCG in Seattle said the move might benefit Boeing because it puts the company closer to the headquarters of major domestic carriers. He also said it shows Boeing is willing to evolve.
“It sends a psychological message that they’re breaking from the past and changing the way of doing things,” he said.
Although Seattle long has been considered Boeing’s company town, the area diversified in the late 20th century with the addition of Microsoft and other high-tech companies, and the expansion of the University of Washington and the myriad research and biotech companies it has spawned.
“The job loss isn’t the issue,” said Roberta Pauer, an economist for the state Employment Security Department. “The job loss is negligible. But the prestige factor is going to be what smarts.”
Shares of Boeing fell $1.15 Wednesday to $53.85 on the New York Stock Exchange.