Ever notice how history has a way of making people look silly? Like all those coaches, for example, who proclaim their love for their current “perfect job” only to reverse course on a dime when the money is waved under their noses? Facts and data can show things that mere words just can’t support.
Earlier this week, Northrop Grumman announced that they were moving their corporate headquarters from LA to Washington DC, ostensibly to better support their primary customer, the US Government. As you might imagine, this was met with consternation and concern by LA business leaders, but NG talking heads quickly threw cold water on any economic worries.
“We don’t really expect it to have a big impact” on South Bay operations, Northrop spokesman Dan McClain said. “The objective is for us to more effectively engage with customers, protect the jobs we have and grow new jobs. So, our goal is for this to be a positive for California.”
Now, Northrop was founded at Hawthorne Airport back in the ’30s, and has a huge footprint in SoCal with major facilites in both El Segundo and Redondo Beach. It’s possible that this move will have no impact on a company so closely tied to the region. But, as they say, let me tell you a tale about another little company …
In 1917, a young engineer in Seattle changed the name of his year-old company to one that would include his last name: The Boeing Airplane Company. Boeing grew in the northwest and, much like Northrop in SoCal, developed a significant business base around Puget Sound. Major aircraft production lines were established in Everett and Renton – in fact, every commercial airliner built by Boeing over the years has rolled out of one of those plants. But Boeing also felt a need to have a less regional presence, and in 2000 decided to move their corporate headquarters to Chicago. Again, it was a significant event to the politicos of the Northwest, who had frankly taken Boeing – and the huge employment base it represented to their districts – for granted. Even with the move, they knew Boeing would retain a large business segment in the greater Seattle area.
Fast forward a few years, and Boeing is developing the new 787 Dreamliner. Like most large aerospace concerns, Boeing has learned that you need to spread the work around to keep people happy, and much of the 787 is being developed by foreign firms selected to ensure their countries’ desire to purchase large numbers of Dreamliners. Even with foreign ownership, though, much of the work was being done at purpose-built facilities in South Carolina. When the foreign firms had trouble meeting schedules, Boeing stepped in and first assisted and then supplanted the foreign companies, taking over the facilities and work.
Meanwhile, back in Seattle, Boeing had established the final assembly line for the 787. Sure, it would just be bolting together big pieces made elsewhere, but at least Seattle could still take credit for finishing the plane and sending it into the sky. But a bruising strike put the program behind schedule, and politicians refused to give Boeing any kind of breaks, knowing they’d never take their business elsewhere. Or would they.
Last year, as orders for Dreamliners skyrocketed, Boeing looked for sites to build a second 787 production line. Washington knew every Boeing jetliner had been built in the Pacific Northwest, and was confident the new line would be built there. But down in South Carolina, where Boeing’s new facilities included a flightline with airport access, local politicians had a full-court press in play to get that new assembly line. Imagine the shock in Seattle when Charleston was announced as the site for the new 787 production line …
Sure, Northrop Grumman has a proud Southern California heritage, but when it comes to corporate decisions, it’s “out of sight, out of mind”. It’s hard to close a facility when it’s within driving range of your headquarters, but not so hard when it’s all the way across the country.
NG employees, don’t say you weren’t warned …