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Boeing sets down

CHICAGO — Paying homage to their new star corporate resident, Gov. George Ryan and Mayor Richard Daley toured Boeing's new headquarters said the "marriage" between the Windy City and Boeing Co. is destined to last.

And in case $51 million in incentives didn't get the message across, they publicly thanked the world's largest aerospace company for selecting the city.

The welcoming ceremony capped a dizzying 5- 1/2-month process that began last March when Boeing said it was leaving Seattle as its corporate base after 85 years, prompting seven weeks of frenzied wooing before Chicago was picked over Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver.

Setting a high standard for corporate relocations, Boeing leased the top dozen floors of an office tower at the edge of the downtown West Loop, tore them up and converted them into a high-tech management complex in less than four months.

Standing next to a 20-foot-tall blue banner reading "Chicago. Our home town," Ryan said he expects the state's investment to be returned many times over.

"We may have had a whirlwind romance last spring, but now we begin a marriage that I think is made to last," the Illinois governor said.

Only 400 to 500 Boeing employees will be based in Chicago — 0.2 percent of its worldwide work force of 198,000 — and no more than 200 are on the job for the company's first week of operations next to the Chicago River.

But state and local leaders are enthusiastic about the $4.3 billion long-term economic effect Boeing is estimated to have on the area, along with the prestige of boasting the world's biggest exporter and airplane maker.

Ryan said Boeing's arrival will create new opportunities for the Illinois economy, including the potential for high-tech jobs and partnerships with area universities. He expects some of its suppliers will follow the company here.

Daley called Boeing's choice a big victory for Chicago. "You're Chicagoans, and we're very proud," he told Boeing employees who filled the ground-floor lobby.

Boeing's chairman and chief executive officer, Philip Condit, made the break with Seattle to speed its transformation into something more than just a jetmaker.

About 61 percent of its $51.3 billion in sales last year came from commercial airplanes — a reliance Boeing would like to gradually lessen by increasing revenue from satellites, military aircraft, missiles, space equipment, financial services, e-commerce or new ventures.

"What we've done by moving the headquarters here is to make sure that headquarters is focused on total-focus strategy — how we're going, where we're going — and that each of the business units is focused on running their business," Condit told reporters. "So if space and communications or military aircraft or commercial aircraft says, 'We need to expand,' they're the ones who will make that decision."

Boeing's greater diversification, he said, puts it in better position to endure the decline in aircraft production.

"We don't think it (the manufacturing downturn) will be as deep as we've seen in the past, and we're all prepared for it," Condit said.

"The advantage the Boeing Co. has now is it is a much broader company. We've got a growing space business, a really good strong military airplane business, to help balance the company."

About 80,000 employees remain based in the Seattle area, home to the commercial airplane business.


On the Net: www.boeing.com