Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

Manufacturing Points

In Football on January 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Frequent flier miles with your season tickets? It could happen if Ian Brickey’s economic development plan went through.

If you’ve followed St. Louis media at all in the last few weeks, you’re probably aware of the effort to land (wow, what a pun) Boeing’s 777X passenger jet manufacturing contract. With labor unrest in Washington — Boeing’s manufacturing hub — both city and state leaders sought to entice the aerospace behemoth to the Show-Me State.

After weeks of closed-door meetings and negotiations, the state and the city each offered tax concessions of nearly $1.8 billion a piece for Boeing to build a new factory in St. Louis County. But those efforts were not, as machinists in Washington approved a new labor deal Saturday ensuring the work would stay in Seattle.

With St. Louis’s bid effectively over, I can now reveal my own part in the Boeing bonanza. You see, a few weeks ago, I got a call from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. It was a surprise to say the least. Jerry — I call him Jerry — and I haven’t spoken in a while.

“Ian,” he says, “I want you in on the Boeing thing.”

I was confused. What could I bring to the negotiations that the governor’s team of economic advisors — all learned…well…economists, at least — couldn’t?

“I read your piece on the Rams’ stadium thing, and I was really impressed,” he said. “I knew you had the insight that only a liberal arts degree could bring.”

I had to say yes. I hung up my phone, sat down and got to work.

What would it take to convince Boeing — an international aerospace conglomerate — to pack up its traditional Seattle operation and build a new plant from scratch in a region where the opening of an Ikea is the news story of the year? Money. Lots of money. But how much? I conservatively estimated $1 billion, then I scratched it out and wrote $2 billion. I wasn’t exactly sure; they don’t teach a lot of econ in the English department.

But money was only part of the deal. The old saying goes, “if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.” And if you give a multinational corporation a bunch of money to build a factory, they’re going to want a bunch of free land, too. And I knew just where to put it — the site of the old Ford plant in Fenton.

But then it hit me. Why just building a factory when we could kill two birds with one stone? Boeing wants a new factory, Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants a new stadium. Let’s give it to them. Why spend $2 billion on a factory and $1 billion on a stadium when you can build both in the same place for a third less?

It made perfect sense. For Boeing, the Fenton site had once been a factory, so the infrastructure would be there for a new one. For the Rams, the undeveloped surrounding area was perfect for paving. One of Kroenke’s biggest complaints is losing out on parking dollars with the downtown location of the Edward Jones Dome. Give him parking lots as far as the eye can see, filled with blue and gold-clad fans tailgating in a flood plain and watch the money roll in. The size requirements lined up as well. The 777X is a gigantic plane. It’s so big, in fact, that the St. Louis plant would only do wing work on the jet. So you have a giant factory for a giant airplane, but a giant factory that would sit idle every weekend. Talk about synergy! Put in some retractable seating, some luxury boxes in the foreman’s office and roll some turf down on the factory floor — you’ve got yourself a football stadium that’s not as bad as the Dome.

I could see it in my mind: St. Louis’s working man toiling away during the work week and then relaxing in the comfort of Boeing Wing Assembly Stadium at Wal-Mart Field. The sound of jet turbines replacing pumped-in crowd noise. A jet flyover every game. And all without having to make the scary trip to downtown St. Louis, never mind what it would be like when the Rams played the New York Jets.

This was it, the winning proposal. I made up a presentation, crafted my one-liners, even ordered a few tee shirts to hand out to the committee.

But just as I was ready to submit my proposal, the governor called again. The machinists in Seattle had voted to accept a restructured contract. St. Louis wouldn’t get the Boeing deal.

Oh well. At least we still have the Ikea.

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