Boeing plans to continue operating in Kent, including sensitive US Department of Defense contract work, but the company’s presence in the town has shrunk significantly over the years with fewer staff and fewer facilities.
The aerospace company made a huge impact when it opened the Boeing Space Center in Kent in 1964. As many as 5,000 to 5,500 employees worked at the site along the West Valley Highway during its peak years, according to previous Kent Reporter articles. Today, around 1,100 employees work in Kent, according to an email from a Boeing spokesperson.
Boeing sold large chunks of property in Kent. The company sold 70 acres in 2013 to a developer, leading to the demolition of several company buildings and the eventual construction of the nearly one million square foot Amazon fulfillment center that opened. in 2016 at 21005 64th Ave. S. A few years later, Boeing demolished five more buildings and sold about 53 acres to another developer who is constructing warehouse and manufacturing buildings totaling about 808,000 square feet.
“Obviously the footprint in Kent has changed a lot over the last 20 years,” said Rich White, senior manager of government relations at Boeing, in response to questions at a Sept. 8 luncheon at the Kent Chamber of Commerce. “Before the merger with McDonnell Douglas, Kent was the center of the world for Boeing from a spatial perspective.”
White said that after the merger, Boeing moved much of the space work to Houston, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida, while the rocket work went to Huntsville, Alabama.
Boeing’s current work in Kent includes activities related to its defense and commercial businesses and research and technology, according to an email from a company spokesperson.
White said during the Chamber luncheon that significant work was continuing in Kent, but he could not speak to specifics as it is sensitive information which Boeing processes under contract with the US Department of Defense.
Asked about Boeing’s future in Kent, White was also careful about anything he could reveal.
“I think there are opportunities for Kent in the future,” White said. “None that I can speak to specifically, but Kent will be a continued presence for Boeing in the future.”
White said Kent Space Center’s role in developing and building the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) was one of Boeing’s greatest contributions to the Apollo mission.
“Kent should be proud of the fact that he built some of the first electric cars that were driven on the Moon,” White said. “They were built here in Kent.”
The first and only crewed surface transport system designed to operate on the Moon was designed, tested and built in 1969 by Boeing for NASA in Kent. The four-wheeled, battery-powered vehicles were last used on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions between 1971 and 1972. Three of the Kent-built Lunar Rovers remain on the Moon today and have been designated as monuments King County Historic Landmarks in 2019 and Washington State Historic Landmarks in 2020.
City of Kent to recognize and remember Lunar Rover with space-themed park, part of $1.62 million renovation of Kherson Park, 317 W. Gowe St., approved earlier this year by Kent City Council. Park improvements will include a 40-foot backdrop for the Lunar Rover replica and a life-size astronaut replica.