NEWSWATCH

With Boeing’s C-17 Timetable Set, What
Now For Long Beach Airport’s Westside?

By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer

September 24, 2013 – More than 2,000 jobs based at The Boeing Company’s Long Beach facility for the C-17 Globemaster III are on the chopping block following Boeing’s announcement that it is closing down the production of the massive aircraft in 2015. In addition to helping workers find jobs, the focus now turns to what is the best use of the land on which the C-17 facilities are located.

In a media conference call, Nanette Bouchard, vice president of program management for Boeing Defense, Space & Security and manager of the C-17 program said the jobs would start being phased out mid-year 2014, when the last aircraft is scheduled for delivery.

“We made the decision based on the timing of international orders,” Bouchard said during the call. In a statement earlier that day, Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said that Boeing’s “budgets cannot support additional purchases in the timing required to keep the production line open.”

Twenty-two C-17s are scheduled for production before the program ends. Firm orders have not yet been placed for 13 of those aircraft, Bouchard said.

In total, the C-17 program employs slightly fewer than 3,000 people in Long Beach; Mesa, Arizona; Macon, Georgia and St. Louis, Missouri. Bouchard said that, prior to the official announcement, Boeing held a webcast to let its employees know of the decision first. “We recognize that closing the C-17 line will affect the lives of our employees, and we will do everything possible to assist them, their families and our community,” Bouchard said.

The closure is going to affect not only Boeing employees but also surrounding businesses, according to John Tary, president of AirFlite Toyota, which is based near C-17 facilities. “There is going to be such a huge ripple effect from this that people haven’t even started to fathom yet. Businesses like ours that service them – I am going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just in servicing their business,” he said. “This is just another unfortunate message that doing business in California is not beneficial,” he stated.

Questions are now arising as to what may be done with the facility when C-17 production ends. As Carl Kemp, candidate for the 5th District council seat, pointed out in a press release, “The city now gains over 1.1 million square feet of opportunity” with the closure of this program. The airport and all Boeing facilities are located within the 5th District.

Bouchard said no firm plans have been set for the facility, but Boeing is fairly certain that another production program will not move in.

Current 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske, who is running for mayor, did not return a Business Journal call to discuss possible land use, but a few hours later released a statement suggesting Boeing donate a building for an aviation museum before the C-17 facility closes. Tary hopes the land will continue to be used to support the aviation industry. “I would love to see some kind of aviation-related manufacturing that uses the engineering and work force talents that are here in Southern California,” he said. “It’s tough to put my finger on exactly what we’d like to see there, but obviously we don’t want to see the thing torn down or, you know, putting a car parking lot on it or something.”

“While we all knew the day was coming, it’s still a hard pillow to swallow,” said Business Journal Publisher George Economides. “It wasn’t that many years ago that Douglas Aircraft/McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing employed more than 40,000 workers in round-the-clock shifts designing, assembling and producing commercial and military aircraft and parts. Area small businesses were thriving. Back then, 20 percent of Long Beach workers lived in Long Beach, which translated into good spendable incomes for business.

“I agree with John Tary that California’s anti-business climate – led by anti-business state legislatures – have played a major part in the demise of the programs. From ridiculous workers’ comp costs that spiked several years ago and taxation issues to over-regulation and the pending elimination of the enterprise zone, the state’s elected officials have chased away business and replaced it with a growing number of people in poverty. Voters must stop electing anti-business, anti-job people to office.”