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What Happened to Seattle’s Relationship with Boeing?

Published on January 23, 2024

View out an airplane window showing the tail of the plane and a city below at sunset
View from an airplane window at sunset

The aftermath of the Alaska blowout reveals that the connection is slowly unraveling.

From Seattle Met

Written by Benjamin Cassidy

IN THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH of the fuselage blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this month, Margaret O’Mara noticed something that would’ve once been unthinkable in Seattle. The University of Washington history professor observed that locals were correctly tying the safety debacle to the city’s own corporate sphere.

But it wasn’t Boeing, the company that manufactured the faulty 737 MAX 9 plane and fueled the city’s growth once upon a time, that people were talking about. “Alaska was the center,” O’Mara says.

Conversations online and in real life are anecdotal, the researcher stresses. And, as Boeing’s role in the mishap has come under greater scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration and others, that initial sentiment has perhaps shifted. But Seattle’s reaction to the company’s latest public failure illuminates an undeniable—and some might say healthy—truth about the city’s relationship to the company since it moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001 and was supplanted by Amazon as the state’s largest private employer.

“Greater Seattle’s fortunes no longer hang on the fortunes of the Boeing Company in the way that they did,” O’Mara says.

Boeing is still a force locally, both in influence and sheer numbers. The company still receives very generous tax benefits from Washington, O’Mara notes, and beyond Amazon, no other private company—not even Microsoft—has surpassed its headcount in the state. Yet its presence in the region isn’t top-of-mind for many anymore, especially among the hundreds of thousands who’ve flocked here this century for tech jobs.

Continue reading at Seattle Met

UW history professor Margaret O'Mara discusses Seattle's changing relationship with Boeing. When did Seattle shift from being Boeing's "company town" to a tech town? What are the repercussions of a city having an identity tied to a corporation? What happened when Boeing moved its headquarters out of Seattle?
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