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Nixon pledges to fight to protect Boeing's jobs in St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 6, 2009 - Gov. Jay Nixon declared Tuesday night that he was definitely in Boeing's corner, when it came to protecting the 35,000-plus local jobs at risk if the U.S. military goes ahead with proposals to cut back on production of the C-17 cargo plane and F/A-18 fighters.

Nixon added in a speech to Boeing workers at their annual recognition dinner that he has underscored his concerns -- and made a pitch for the aircraft projects -- in personal conversations with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during their recent Missouri visits.

"These conversations are not over,'' the governor told several hundred Boeing officials and employees in a ballroom at the Sheraton West Port Plaza Chalet. "My administration and I will continue to fight for these aerospace jobs."

"I may not be the smartest or the quickest,'' Nixon added. "But I am extremely determined."

Nixon's pledge of support elevates the political involvement of many top Missouri officials on Boeing's behalf --  notably U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country -- ever since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended a month ago that production end at 205 planes for the C-17, and that next year's manufacture of the F/A-18 be reduced by about one-third.

Nixon echoed Bond's earlier points, that both aircraft have served the military well, are still needed, and have been produced on time and underbudget.

"These projects have delivered for America for years,'' Nixon said in an interview afterwards. "And so have the workers."

At stake, Nixon said Tuesday, are about 16,000 Boeing jobs in St. Louis with an average pay of more than $70,000 a year, and filled largely by college graduates. Another 18,000 or so people are employed at other area firms that provide parts or services to Boeing and its workers.

All told, said Nixon, Boeing's production in Missouri of just the C-17 and the F/A-18 amount to about $2 billion a year into the state's economy.

Ending production, he continued, will be "a severe blow to the economy of Missouri and the entire Midwest."

The threat to the Boeing jobs come at a bad time in Missouri, Nixon said, noting that the state already is seeing unemployment reach a 25-year high. Unsaid in his speech, but acknowledged in the interview afterwards, is the fact that the St. Louis area already has lost thousands of high-paying jobs with the sale of Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. to InBev, and the partial closure of the Chrysler auto plants in Fenton. Chrysler has announced that the Fenton plants will likely be closed permanently as it files for bankruptcy and perhaps merges with the Italian automaker Fiat.

Nixon said in the interview that he also had mentioned the Fenton plants during his conversation with Obama, who held a town hall meeting last week in Nixon's home county of Jefferson County.

But Boeing's possible job losses are seen as even more dire for the region and the state. Boeing is Missouri's largest manufacturer, with the state's second-largest workforce.

Even so, Nixon also reaffirmed points made earlier this month by others that, in Boeing's case, it's not just jobs that are at risk.

"These cutbacks are not good for our national security or the state's economy,'' Nixon said. He added later that Boeing and its workers deserved credit for creating products that have helped defend the United States during "the most dangerous times in defense of a democracy."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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