Boeing may move work abroad with Ex-Im future uncertain: chairman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Boeing Co BA.N Chairman Jim McNerney on Wednesday said the aircraft maker is actively looking at moving "key pieces" of its operations to other countries given uncertainty about the future of the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired on June 30.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney in Everett, Washington February 17, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

“We are now forced to think about this differently,” McNerney told hundreds of executives and diplomats during an interview hosted by the Economic Club of Washington.

McNerney, who retired as the company’s chief executive on July 1, said Boeing might consider sites in countries that offer export credits, but gave no details about which operations could be affected or when the company had launched its review.

The International Association of Machinists District 751, which represents more than 30,000 Boeing workers, blasted McNerney’s threat to move jobs overseas. “The only Boeing job that should leave this country is his,” said Jon Holden, who heads Boeing’s largest union.

America’s largest exporter, Boeing employs 165,000 people.

“Boeing’s fear mongering undermines the company’s remarkable products and it won’t win converts in Congress,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, a sister organization of the Heritage Foundation that promotes conservative policy and is one of the most vocal critics of the bank.

The Ex-Im Bank was created during the Great Depression to lend money to U.S. exporters and their foreign customers. Its charter lapsed after conservatives in the U.S. Congress cast it as a promoter of "crony capitalism" for multinationals such as Boeing and General Electric Co GE.N.

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Hopes of reviving the trade bank were dashed on Tuesday as Congress moved toward a short-term extension of highway funding without a provision to renew the bank’s charter. That means the bank’s fate hangs in the balance through September or October, McNerney said.

Uncertainty about the availability of export credits is already weighing on sales of a range of Boeing products, including commercial satellites, according to sources familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the business negotiations.

McNerney’s comments reflect U.S. industry’s growing frustration about deep partisan divides that have paralyzed Congress since the rise of the right-wing Tea Party in 2010 and the imposition of mandatory spending cuts that have hit revenues at the defense division of Boeing and other arms makers.

GE’s chief executive, Jeff Immelt, last month told the Economic Club his company would move manufacturing jobs to Canada and Europe if the Ex-Im bank closed.

McNerney said he was more worried than ever that Congress could fail to reauthorize the bank, given what he called the “very, very frustrating” refusal of a small minority of lawmakers to accept majority congressional support for the bank.

“People just playing politics – they’re not connected to the real world anymore,” McNerney said at the event, which was attended by the Russian, Dutch and Malaysian ambassadors.

McNerney, who led an effort to bring more manufacturing in-house after problems linked to the company’s strategy of outsourcing work on the 787 Dreamliner, said he was rethinking his efforts to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.

“I’m beginning to think that maybe I made the wrong decision,” said McNerney, who led the company for 10 years.

Boeing recently signed a deal with major Japanese suppliers, giving them 21 percent of the 777X content, down from 35 percent for the 787.

Boeing's main rival, Europe's Airbus AIR.PA, has opened manufacturing facilities in China and the United States in recent years.

Additional reporting by Alwyn Scott and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler