Boeing Auburn and its employees had good reason to throw confetti and toot a horn or a thousand of them Monday morning, had they wished.
That is, the grand opening of its first new building on the site in 25 years, the 71,000-square-foot Workforce Readiness Center, “an investment in Boeing’s 5,300 Auburn employees,” who produce 17,000 parts and assemblies each day for seven critical business units.
“Your fingerprints are really all over what we are celebrating,” Kim Smith, vice president and general manager of Boeing Fabrication, told the audience of more than 100 employees and dignitaries gathered inside the building.
“It’s about bettering society, coming together as a community and supporting one another,” said Jack Meehan, the Auburn site’s leader.
While the facility, for which Boeing broke ground a year ago, may seem small, cheek to jowl with the 4.2 million square feet of on-site manufacturing factory space, its purpose is outsized: to help Boeing Auburn take control of its future by ensuring employees have the skills needed to bring new work to the community in the future, said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, herself a former Boeing employee.
“We’re standing here today because there was a right time, and this is the right thing. I applaud the Boeing company for its dedication to the employees and to the training to ensure we have sustainable, family-wage income and jobs. … It’s also a physical reminder of the bond that we have, the partnership that we have, that has been fostered for nearly half a century,” Backus said.
Inside the center are: Craft College, where mechanics receive new training and obtain necessary re-certifications; a new robotics lab, which trains employees in next-generation manufacturing; and safety courses built on Fabrication’s Incident and Injury Free program, which will ensure Auburn continues to be a leader in workplace safety. The center will likewise provide orientation and training space for new employees, ensuring there is no learning curve once they start on the factory floor.
Its state-of- the-art training and equipment will empower workers to build and grow the skills and knowledge needed to compete in the 21st century aerospace market.
But that wasn’t the only thing to celebrate.
Later this year, the IAM/Boeing Joint Programs office – a collaborative venture between the company and its biggest labor union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) – moves on-site, providing employees easy access to enhanced health, safety and educational opportunities.
As one of the critical links in the Boeing Commercial Airplanes supply chain, Auburn employees provide Boeing’s customers throughout the world with the support and parts they need. Alongside Boeing’s planned Operations Readiness Center, officials say, the Workforce Readiness Center will help maintain the community’s status as a critical hub in the supply chain.
Company officials say the leading edge practices at the Workforce Readiness Center should serve as a model for the rest of the nation. In fact, last year the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education (CTE) for the 21st Century Act, a bill which aims to align the federal CTE system to promote programs exactly like the Workforce Readiness Center.
All this, company officials say, is good news for Boeing Auburn, and even better news for the entire South Puget Sound region. Because, while Boeing is the top private employer in the state, creating nearly as many jobs here as Microsoft, Costco, Nordstrom and Starbucks combined, that doesn’t even begin to describe the overall economic impact Boeing has on Washington.
Over the past year, the company spent nearly $6 billion buying parts and services from more than 1,700 Evergreen State vendors. In Auburn, that included companies such as Leonards Metal, Power Science Engineering, and Torr Technologies. In total, Boeing supports almost 150,000 jobs in the state.