By JAY REEVES
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Boeing used Alabama for leverage when it was shopping for potential plant sites during labor negotiations, Gov. Robert Bentley said Wednesday, but the experience will help the state in the long run.
Bentley, speaking with reporters after outlining his legislative plans during a speech to civic clubs, said he believed the aircraft manufacturer really was interested in Huntsville as a new home for jetliner production when it was shopping for possible sites outside of Washington state to build its 777X aircraft.
But Bentley said he also believed the company used the state "to some extent" during the process, which came during contract discussions with the machinist union.
"I asked them that," Bentley said. "When I met with them the first time, I said, 'Are you using us to get a positive vote out of the union? Are you truly serious?'" Bentley said.
"We were the first state they met with, and they told me they were truly serious about moving," Bentley said. "They actually had a site visit planned for this week, and they would have been here if it had not been a 51 percent vote."
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said the company was "appreciative of every state that took part in the process, but we are not identifying any of those locations."
"We have no further comment," Alder said in an email.
Boeing machinists last week narrowly approved a contract that gave up some benefits to secure assembly of the new airplane for the Puget Sound region, strengthening the aerospace giant's presence in the Seattle, Wash., area. Boeing said it considered building the 777X elsewhere, which could have cost thousands of jobs in its hometown.
Bryan Corliss, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists District 751, said there was "about a 1 percent chance Boeing would move to a place like Alabama."
"I would think the Alabama governor has every right to be put out," Corliss said.
Despite not gaining a new aircraft plant, Bentley said the state would benefit from having worked to promote the Huntsville area as a potential location for the project.
"Every time we put together an incentive package we always learn from it," he said.
Bentley said job creation remains his top priority, and he said Alabama had a "good shot" at winning the Boeing plant before the company said it would make its new 777X aircraft in Washington state. Bentley said he had stayed up until midnight the night of the union vote awaiting the outcome.
"I'm not sure that we would have landed them, but I do believe we were in the top three states," said Bentley.
Boeing competitor Airbus is supposed to create about 1,000 jobs with an aircraft plant that is under construction in Mobile. To land Airbus in 2012, the state provided state and local tax breaks and almost $160 million for bond expenses, site and road improvements, building costs and worker training.