Much of our region’s economic strength and robust nonprofit sector can be traced to an important decision made 100 years ago today by a single person. On July 15, 1916, on the shores of Lake Union, Bill Boeing founded what is today The Boeing Company.
Boeing easily could have been founded elsewhere. Bill Boeing didn’t grow up or attend school here. A child of Detroit, he attended college on the East Coast. His decision to come to Seattle was originally driven not by airplanes but instead by opportunities closer to the ground, namely his interest in the bustling timber industry of the early 20th century. We still feel the enormous economic and philanthropic repercussions of that decision.
Today, Boeing touches virtually every person in our state. Chances are that you have a family member, friend or neighbor who works for the company. That’s because Boeing is the state’s largest private employer, with more than 75,000 employees. Or perhaps you know someone who works at one of the thousands of local suppliers that support the company’s operations. In all, more than 267,000 jobs in Washington, paying a whopping $22 billion in annual wages, depend on the vibrant aerospace industry that has grown up around Boeing.
Bill Boeing’s single-engine seaplane, which first glided over Lake Union in 1916, ultimately gave birth to a truly global operation. Boeing sold airplanes worldwide long before Microsoft software enabled a global computing and communications revolution. Before Starbucks sold lattes in China and Amazon brought online shopping to cities around the world, it was Boeing that put our state on the map as a global center for innovation.
Equally important measures of Boeing’s impact on our community can be found in the diverse philanthropic contributions of the company and its employees. In 1917, shortly after that first test flight, Bill Boeing made his first charitable contribution to the University of Washington. It was a first step in what would become an admirable long-term commitment to local schools and nonprofits. Boeing and Microsoft enjoy a shared tradition of strong philanthropic activity that began very early in each company’s history, belying the notion that a company has to “grow up” before it can support the community.
One great example of Boeing’s generosity is the company’s program that matches corporate donations to employee’s charitable contributions and also provides a per-hour donation to nonprofits where employees volunteer.