Perspective: Staying in the game to win next-generation aerospace jobs

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 of that NASA competition was the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis. Over the next several years, 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. McDonnell would become McDonnell-Douglas; McDonnell-Douglas would become Boeing; and 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. The contenders are different, and the Cold War has long since been won. But its outcome will have a powerful and lasting impact 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 and 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, helping Boeing double the haul of its heavily-subsidized European competitors at Airbus.

Now Boeing will build this next-generation jet, and in the process create thousands of new advanced manufacturing jobs, construct new multi-billion dollar facilities and establish expansive new supply chains. That’s why, when Boeing recently decided to take production of the 777X out of Seattle and a dozen other states threw their hats into the ring, Missouri faced a simple choice: we could compete to bring the 777X, and the thousands of jobs that would come with it, to Missouri; or we 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 forged an unprecedented agreement 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 worked across the aisle to pass legislation to help Missouri to put forward a competitive proposal to Boeing without jeopardizing vital public services like education or putting taxpayers at risk.

Senate Bill 1, which I signed this week, provides additional capacity to four of Missouri’s existing economic development programs. The way these programs work is that companies, including Boeing, must invest and create jobs first, then and 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. So it is not like writing a check. If a business like Boeing decides not to move forward with a project, Missouri pays nothing. If they don’t create all the jobs they promise, they only get credit for the workers they actually hire. And because under state law each project is required 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. Today, by working together in a bipartisan and fiscally responsible way, we are a strong position to seize it. Let’s stay in the game.

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