Boeing’s Chicago HQ a ‘ghost town’ as priorities shift

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SEATTLE, Oct 7 (Reuters) – Twenty years in the past, simply days earlier than the 9/11 assaults on the USA crippled the aerospace business, Boeing Co moved its headquarters from its historic Seattle manufacturing hub to a classy downtown Chicago skyscraper.

The transfer was central to Boeing’s plan to forge a brand new identification as a diversified world juggernaut, distancing high executives from the each day operations inside far-flung enterprise items, and getting nearer to Wall Avenue and main clients.

Twenty years on, within the midst of a contemporary disaster shaking the business, Boeing’s company hub is in a state of limbo.

A brand new crop of high executives primarily based primarily on the coasts are managing industrial and security certification issues at its main divisions and the lingering fallout from the 737 MAX and coronavirus crises. On the identical time, tax incentives heaped on Boeing by Chicago and Illinois run out at year-end.

As soon as the image of a brand new Boeing, the imaginative and prescient of a company epicenter rising above its constituent elements has fallen at odds with the crucial of recapturing engineering dominance and repairing relationships with clients and federal regulators.

Chief Government Dave Calhoun, for instance, spent the start of the yr at Boeing’s manufacturing facility in South Carolina coping with production-related defects which have hobbled this system, individuals aware of the matter mentioned.

Different high executives, like newly minted CFO Brian West, are additionally primarily based totally on the U.S. East Coast and a hush has descended on the unique however practical high flooring, though the pandemic has additionally been a significant component, the individuals mentioned.

“It is a ghost city,” one of many individuals added.

The headquarters – a 36-floor, $200 million riverfront skyscraper – sits on the crossroads of a cost-cutting marketing campaign that has seen Boeing shed actual property, together with its business airplane headquarters in Seattle.

A number of individuals near the corporate say value cuts and a extra hands-on company tradition have raised questions on Boeing’s long-term future within the metropolis, and in flip the broad path Boeing intends to take because it tries to regain its stride.

Boeing, nonetheless, insists important operations nonetheless happen there and rebuffs any suggestion that the enormous might go away its Midwest base. “Chicago is strategically necessary to Boeing’s U.S. and world operations,” a spokesperson mentioned.

“As with different corporations, now we have tailored to hybrid methods of working within the midst of the worldwide pandemic to interact with our individuals, and our clients and different stakeholders.”

Boeing and workers have invested almost $50 million in assist of Chicagoland communities in recent times, Boeing mentioned.

Regardless of the brand new focus, others warning exiting town would threat an area firestorm and stays removed from Boeing’s instant priorities amid a slew of business and regulatory issues.


Boeing left its Seattle residence after 85 years following its 1997 merger with St. Louis-based rival McDonnell Douglas – a call that angered rank-and-file mechanics and engineers.

Boeing was in search of a post-merger headquarters in a impartial location separate from these present divisional energy facilities.

However some critics seen Boeing’s Chicago transfer as a logo of an organization that prized near-term earnings and shareholder returns over long-term engineering dominance – a cost repeated after crashes of 737 MAX jets that killed 346 individuals in 2018 and 2019.

“It started as a method of signaling that they might make future investments with out regard to any legacy loyalties,” Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia mentioned. “To some, it has merely turn into a method of indicating that they won’t make any future investments in any respect.”


Chicago, Cook dinner County and Illinois awarded Boeing greater than $60 million in tax and different incentives over 20 years to relocate. These credit have expired or will expire at year-end, although Boeing will obtain 2021 funds subsequent yr, the spokesperson mentioned.

The incentives, which had been briefly swept up in a commerce spat with Europe’s Airbus over mutual claims of unfair assist, required Boeing to maintain 500 full-time workers on the workplace.

Boeing reported 513 full-time workers in Chicago for 2020, a metropolis spokesperson mentioned.

Boeing additionally employs hundreds of individuals in Chicago and the Metro East area in southern Illinois close to St. Louis, a state spokesperson mentioned.

However evaluation final yr by the Higher Authorities Affiliation, which scrutinizes Illinois state choices, discovered that Boeing fell wanting the 500-employee mark in not less than 4 years.

“Numbers reported by the corporate to the state and metropolis differ, have by no means been audited, and in some years fell wanting the general public goal,” it mentioned.

The oblique affect from Boeing workers within the Chicago space had been pegged at $4.3 billion over 20 years, Pam McDonough, a former director of the Illinois Division of Commerce and Neighborhood Affairs, mentioned in a LinkedIn article final yr.

“These giant initiatives are sophisticated and strategic however do lead to super advantages each monetary and civic.”

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle
Extra reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris
Modifying by Nick Zieminski


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