Boeing has been headquartered in Seattle for nearly 85 years. It is
the largest private sector employer in the state of Washington and is
widely thought of as the heart and soul of the city. So you can imagine
the shock when Boeing CEO Phil Condit held a press conference in
Washington, DC to announce the company was relocating to an as yet
unnamed 'culturally diverse city that offers ready access to global
markets, provides a strong pro-business environment and allows easy
access to major Boeing operations and customers' (USA Today, March
The ensuing coverage focused most frequently on the 'surprising' and
'shocking' nature of the announcement. The Denver Post (March 25) wrote,
'Imagine Las Vegas without The Strip, DC without the Capitol, New York
without Wall Street. That's how unbelievable it was.'
Contributing to the surprise was the fact that very few people knew of
the announcement in advance, according to reports. Stories said
employees, the community, and state and local politicians were all
surprised. Washington Governor Gary Locke told US News & World Report
(April 2), 'I was deeply stunned, surprised and saddened hearing
In trying to explain Boeing's decision, the media latched on to the
notion that Seattle and the state of Washington are not
business-friendly. A number of reports said Seattle has high taxes, a
high cost of living, traffic congestion, a remote location adding that
there are lengthy bureaucratic delays in making regulatory changes.
State Minority Leader Jim West (R) told The Seattle Times (March 22),
'This is very much like a canary in a mine shaft. It's an indication
that the business habitat in this state is poisoned.' The move was also
explained by the fact that Boeing has diversified beyond aircraft
manufacturing and become the world's largest aerospace company. Analysts
viewed the announcement as a symbolic move to help change the perception
of the company's expanded business lines.
Media coverage also noted that the source of Seattle's anguish was more
from the loss of prestige than from an economic loss. Of the nearly
80,000 employees in the area, only about 1,000 jobs will be transferred
when the headquarters is relocated in the late summer. The coverage
could not overstate how hurt the community felt. The Christian Science
Monitor (March 27) wrote, 'It was as if a sky full of B-52s had carpet
bombed this city's psyche.'
Locals reacted with a sense of betrayal, criticizing the company for
being too concerned with increasing shareholder value and overlooking
the interests of its workers. A local labor leader stated, 'They've
clearly demonstrated a lack of respect for the people who built this
company with their backs and brains over decades, generations' (The
Denver Post, March 25).
And there was also criticism as to how the announcement was handled.
The Seattle Times (March 22) quoted a union leader's statement that it
was 'disrespectful' for Boeing not to talk with unions or political
leaders about the move beforehand, while headlining Mayor Paul Schell's
helpless comment, 'Why didn't you call?'
For having spent 85 years together, Boeing certainly doesn't seem too
broken up about transplanting its headquarters. A new location has not
been decided upon yet, but since so many employees will be staying in
the Seattle area, the company would do well to make attempts to smooth
the feathers it has ruffled with its announcement.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found