President Barack Obama will promote steps to boost U.S. exports as he visits the commercial aviation hub of Boeing Co., the planemaker at the center of a regulatory clash last year.
Obama will announce plans for Export-Import Bank financing for U.S. companies to match foreign competitors’ sources of official funding and an experimental program to ease access to credit for small-business exporters, the White House said before his stop today at Boeing’s jet factory in Everett, Washington, which has more than 35,000 employees.
Touring a Boeing plant gives Obama an industrial backdrop for his manufacturing initiatives and puts him at a company targeted in a 2011 National Labor Relations Board complaint that Republicans cited as evidence of hostility toward business. The case was dropped after a new union accord helped pave the way for a planned output boost at the biggest U.S. exporter.
“It’s a victory lap” for Obama, said Gary Chaison, a labor professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Boeing has 80 percent of its $296 billion jetliner backlog from buyers outside the U.S., making the Chicago-based company pivotal to Obama’s plan to double exports in five years. The planemaker plans to increase commercial-jet production by more than 60 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Obama’s effort to add matching financing is aimed at helping U.S. companies fend off “unfair advantages” enjoyed by rivals in China and elsewhere receiving government assistance, according to a White House statement. He also will call for extending the lending authority of the Ex-Im Bank, which may reach its $100 billion ceiling before April.
“Failure to reauthorize the bank will give competitors, like China, an unfair edge in global trade, with the costs of decreases in U.S. exports and good American jobs,” the White House said.
Boeing plans to contribute $742 million to the bank’s Supply Chain Financing Program to provide short-term credit to smaller suppliers, according to the bank. Over the last three years the bank supported the export of about 460 Boeing jets.
Boeing and the White House have numerous ties: Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney is chairman of the President’s Export Council; William Daley left Boeing’s board to become Obama’s chief of staff; John Bryson, also a Boeing director, became Obama’s Commerce secretary in October.
“It is a love-hate relationship,” with the company and the White House wanting and needing rapport yet clashing over regulations, Chaison said. “Boeing becomes incredibly symbolic now after the troubles they’ve been through with the NLRB.”
The board charged Boeing with violating workers’ rights by citing strikes in Washington state as a reason for building a new 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina. Chaison said Obama will assert that the NLRB’s suit spurred the contract compromise that preserved jobs in Washington state and South Carolina.
“This trip has everything to do with the president’s focus on manufacturing and on increasing our exports and nothing to do” with the NLRB case, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday.
Republicans in Congress are pressing an investigation of the board, particularly after Obama appointed three members while the lawmakers were in recess last month. They say the president unlawfully bypassed the Senate to fill the vacancies.
Boeing added more than 11,000 new jobs last year in Washington, where most employees belong to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, and South Carolina, where workers rejected unionization.
Obama will speak just north of Seattle at Boeing’s plant for wide-body jets. Erected in 1967, it remains the world’s biggest building by volume and houses the production lines for the 747 jumbo jet, 767, 777 and the new 787 Dreamliner. Air Force One, the presidential 747, was assembled there.
“The president has embraced U.S. manufacturing, and Boeing is an iconic symbol of U.S. success,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
The visit also makes sense for Obama from a fundraising perspective, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University in Houston. Washington state is among the five most-unionized in the U.S., and Obama plans to attend two events in a Seattle suburb to raise money for his re-election.
Neither the White House nor the planemaker can afford to have a public feud, so it’s in their interest to highlight the positives of their relationship and forget last year’s strains, according to Brinkley and Shaiken.
“Boeing wants a president that’s sympathetic to manufacturing, and the president wants a symbol of aiding the economy,” Shaiken said. “So with that, that’s big smiles all around.”