Boeing has 1,200 engineers in Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach.… (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles…)
After years of downsizing in Southern California, Boeing Co. said it will shift at least 300 engineering jobs on commercial aircraft to its longtime facility in Long Beach.
During the next six to nine months, company employees will relocate from the Puget Sound region in Washington to the complex. The facility is next to Long Beach Airport and work done there includes assembly of the C-17 cargo jet for the Air Force.
Boeing doubled down on Southern California by announcing Friday that it would establish a new engineering design center for commercial aircraft. The Chicago company did not say where it would be based or how many new jobs it would mean for the region but said that it would serve as a incubator for young talent.
It is a surprising announcement from Boeing, which has 1,200 commercial engineers in Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach. The company's commercial work in Southern California has dwindled over the years.
"Any time we can bring good engineering jobs back to the city is a good day," Long Beach Vice Mayor Robert Garcia said. "If you bring back a job, that's also ensuring that other jobs connected to the Boeing operations are going to remain here for a long time."
The Long Beach plant was built by Douglas Aircraft Co. and still has a large "Fly DC Jets" sign in front. It thrived for decades, employing thousands and producing some of the world's most popular airliners, including the DC-3, DC-8 and MD-80.
Boeing stopped producing commercial aircraft there in 2006, when the last 717 rolled off the line. It was a plane that Boeing inherited when it acquired McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1997, but the 717, originally called the MD-95, never caught on with major airlines.
With Friday's announcement, Long Beach will again be home for engineering support on many of its out-of-production airplanes, including the 707, 727, early 737 models and 757.
"Traditionally, they've had deep roots in the Southern California economy, so they'll be able to take advantage of existing infrastructure," said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner at the consulting firm Beacon Economics. "The ability to get that done is easier here than anywhere else because of our historical legacy of aerospace manufacturing."
With 19,231 workers, California still has the most Boeing employees of any state other than Washington, where it was founded. But the workforce is a far cry from 10 years ago, when it hovered around 35,000 workers and Boeing was the largest private employer in Southern California.
The announcement of the new engineering center in Southern California — there will also be ones in Washington and South Carolina — is a show of support that the company will continue its presence in the coming years. Boeing is forecasting a market for 34,000 new airplanes estimated at $4.5 trillion over the next 20 years.
"Our opportunity for future growth is unprecedented and this helps us be more competitive by building on our team's talent and capability — across Boeing, the United States and around the world," Michael Delaney, commercial airplanes vice president of engineering, said in a statement.
The company said the three centers, which will all internally compete for work, will focus on product development through design, production and support.
Boeing's announcement comes at a critical time. The C-17 cargo jet facility faces dwindling orders for its huge planes. Last year, the Air Force issued a $500-million contract to begin planning the shutdown of the assembly line.
With no new orders, the factory could shut down completely by late 2014, but Boeing officials say they are working to secure new deals.