What a difference a year makes.
The Boeing Co. announced Monday it is closing its Macon plant by the end of the year, putting about 120 employees out of work.
Just a year ago last month, officials from Boeing and Macon-Bibb County government celebrated the announcement that Boeing would invest nearly $82 million to convert its existing military facility in Macon to a commercial airplane manufacturing plant. The company expected the new work would create jobs for about 200 workers.
The company had planned to transition to a Boeing Commercial Airplanes fabrication facility producing 747 fuselage panels.
At the announcement in September 2015, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert proclaimed, “It is unprecedented,” before a crowd of about 100 people. It was to be the first time a defense plant was converted to a commercial plant.
However, the company decided in July this year to suspend plans to increase production from one-half airplane a month to one airplane per month in 2019, said Cindy Anderson, senior manager for state and local communications, in an email. She is with Boeing Defense, Space & Security Communications in Washington, D.C.
“(Boeing Commercial Airplanes) has determined that it does not have a business case at this time for taking on the Macon site,” Anderson said. “The main additional factor in this decision is the continuing soft cargo market and the accompanying reduced demand for very large cargo freighters.”
Once the Macon workers complete the defense work in December, “site operations will conclude with no planned restart,” she said. “We are continuing to assist employees who are interested in employment opportunities at other Boeing locations. As well, we continue to work with state agencies to identify employment opportunities outside of Boeing for employees.”
Reichert said in a statement Monday decision by Boeing “is a regrettable turn of events.”
“Developments in the national economy can have a significant local impact, but we will do the best we can through workforce development and (the) Department of Labor to ensure that those displaced workers get their unemployment insurance and every effort is made to help them find work,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we have other aviation and aerospace employers (in Middle Georgia).”
Cliffard Whitby, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, said he received word Monday about Boeing’s plan.
“We are convening to assess the community’s position due to this notification,” Whitby said in a prepared statement. “As Macon-Bibb’s lead economic development authority, securing the workforce is our main concern. Boeing has been a partner in our community for three decades. The men and women who have dedicated their lives to this company; they and their families are of the utmost concern to us.”
The authority would work with state and community partners to come up with a plan to help “workers in retraining and placement in their next job opportunity,” he said.
Ironically, at the announcement last year, Robbie Fountain, vice chairman of the authority, said “we were on the brink of losing Boeing in Macon.”
In 2013, Boeing announced that it would shut down its C-17 Globemaster production line in Macon — affecting about 300 jobs — by the third or fourth quarter of 2015. Then in February 2014, the company announced it would discontinue work on the CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Macon, which would claim additional jobs.
The Boeing site began as a McDonnell Douglas operation in 1988, working on both commercial and military aircraft programs, including the MD-80 and the C-17.