Boeing plans to keep operating in Kent, including sensitive U.S. Department of Defense contract work, but the company’s presence in town has declined dramatically over the years with fewer employees and 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. Now about 1,100 employees work in Kent, according to an email from a Boeing spokesperson.
Boeing has sold off large chunks of property in Kent. The company sold 70 acres in 2013 to a developer that led to the demolition of several company buildings and the eventual construction of the nearly 1 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 building warehouses and manufacturing buildings totaling approximately 808,000 square feet.
“Obviously, the footprint in Kent has changed a bunch in the last 20 years,” said Rich White, a Boeing senior government relations manager, in response to questions at a Sept. 8 Kent Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “Prior to the merger with McDonnell Douglas, Kent was the center of the world for Boeing from a space standpoint.”
White said after the merger Boeing moved a lot of the space work to Houston, Texas and Cape Canaveral, Florida while 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 at the chamber luncheon that important work goes on in Kent but he couldn’t talk about the specifics because it’s sensitive information that Boeing does under contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.
When asked about Boeing’s future in Kent, White also was careful with how much he could reveal.
“I think there’s opportunities for Kent in the future,” White said. “None that I can speak to specificity, but Kent will be a continuous presence for Boeing into the future.”
White said the 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 that fact it 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 transportation system made to operate on the Moon was designed, tested and built in 1969 by Boeing for NASA in Kent. The four-wheeled, battery-operated vehicles were last used during Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17 between 1971-72. Three of the Kent-built Lunar Rovers remain on the Moon today and were designated as King County historic landmarks in 2019 and Washington State Historic Landmarks in 2020.
The city of Kent will recognize and remember the Lunar Rover with a space-themed park, part of a $1.62 million renovation to Kherson Park, 317 W. Gowe St., approved earlier this year by the Kent City Council. The improvements at the park will include a 40-foot backdrop for the Lunar Rover replica and a replica life-size astronaut.