Luring jobs is big business for states looking at big employers

Union workers have approved an eight-year contract with aerospace giant Boeing, effectively guaranteeing the company will build its new 777X aircraft in the state of Washington.

Wisconsin was one of 22 states which offered the company new sites for an assembly plant. The stakes were high for the states seeking to lure Boeing. Many of the Boeing workers have base pay of $70,000 and with overtime earn more than $100,000 annually, according to the New York Times.

In a letter to its workers, Boing said employees would continue to “receive market-leading wages and benefits.”

But Wisconsin may never have been a serious contender in the bid to land a large Boeing plant. State leaders noted that already some of the company’s suppliers have Wisconsin locations. The current Republican-controlled state government may have maimed public employee unions, but it did not enact right-to-work laws covering the private sector that would have attracted Boeing attention.

In addition, there’s the issue of available, trained workforce. Wisconsin employers repeatedly have said they can’t find enough qualified workers for their plants. Those comments seem based on the wages being offered to attract new workers. Unanswered is the cascading impact on wages for skilled workers in Wisconsin if Boeing – and its pay levels – were to have relocated here.

It’s economic gospel that small companies and their growth are at the heart of a solid economic footing for Wisconsin’s future. But the small employers might lose workers to a giant like Boeing that pays high wages and provides top benefits.

There are conservative forces that will contend – at least privately – that Wisconsin desperately needs a right-to-work law that prevents labor contracts from requiring workers to join unions or pay union dues. Some of those 22 states vying for a Boeing relocation have right-to-work laws.

By inviting states to make offers, Boeing put pressure on the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to cut a deal. Part of the sweetened deal were two bonuses totaling $15,000 for each worker. Some 31,000 workers, most of them in the state of Washington, are covered by the Boeing contract.

Another sign of the magnitude of the Boeing siting decision was the $8.7 billion in subsidies that the state of Washington had offered Boeing through the year 2040 if it built the new plane there. The 777X will carry 365 passengers and be 20 percent more fuel efficient than the Boeing 777.

Meanwhile Wisconsin has turned to a television campaign to tout itself to businesses in adjoining states. The 30-second commercials, including testimonials from Wisconsin business leaders, are running in Chicago, Rockford, and Twin Cities markets.

The ads tout a “pro-business climate” and a “strong workforce.” The Wisconsin ads, developed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., avoid previous blatant anti-Illinois messages. This campaign also is a sharp shift from the tone of some of Gov. Scott Walker’s earlier comments about Illinois financial troubles.

On another jobs-creation front, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined in December to commit to a joint state-federal environmental review of the proposed iron mine in the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin. At issue is whether state and federal regulations can be resolved.

Apparent problems are changes in Wisconsin law and a speededup review timetable, according to George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation which opposed weakening environmental laws.

A spokesperson for Gogebic Taconite which hopes to open the mine said separate reviews would be costly and time-consuming but expressed a belief the Army Corps would agree to a joint environmental review.

The proposed mine will be an issue in the 2014 elections. Republicans will say the mine is an example of economic development. But any review will take at least 420 days and up to four years if a separate federal review is used.

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