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As she savored Plano’s most recent victory in the fierce arena of corporate headquarter relocations, Sally Bane, the longtime executive director of the city’s economic development office, gazed at a 16-year-old poster of the cockpit of a Boeing 777.“As you fly around North Texas, keep Plano on your radar,” reads the poster, which was sent to Boeing (NYSE: BA) as a recruitment tool in 2001.
Until Wednesday, in Plano and broader North Texas, Boeing had been known as the one that got away. On Wednesday, however, the aerospace giant announced it will locate the headquarters for its newly formed Global Services Division into Plano’s Legacy West development.To understand the significance of Boeing’s decision, flash back to 2001.The first Harry Potter movie had just been released. The band Train was singing about "Drops of Jupiter" in someone’s hair. And North Texas was a finalist for Boeing’s headquarters move from Seattle.Plano, downtown Dallas and the Las Colinas area of Irving were among communities in the region on Boeing’s short list.Boeing, however, chose to relocate to Chicago, delivering a stinging defeat that, when mentioned, to this day causes North Texas business people, politicians and economic developers to shake their collective heads and sigh.When they moved, Boeing’s decision makers cited the Windy City's abundance of cultural amenities — and North Texas’ apparent lack thereof — as one reason for the decision.“That decision that didn’t end in our favor has been a much dissected process and project,” Bane told me in an interview after Boeing’s announcement Wednesday. “It did spur cultural improvements in the Metroplex, and it also helped us work more cooperatively as a region. But we never quite got over not landing the headquarters.”Much has changed in North Texas in the past 16 years, Bane points out. And her assessment is correct.Downtown Dallas has been revitalized, and Big D’s northern suburbs have become boomtowns, as measured by population or economic growth.On the cultural front, Fort Worth has built a new Museum of Modern Art and the Bass Performing Symphony Hall — one of the finest in the world. In Dallas, the AT&T Performing Arts Center and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science are among many additions.“So many amazing projects have selected Plano since 2001, and the amenities that are helping to support them have blossomed up all around this area,” Bane said. “It’s a different environment than it was then.”Bane and her economic development team have shared plenty of success since Boeing first passed on North Texas. In the last 10 years alone, Bane and her crew have been involved in more than 117 relocation and expansion projects resulting in more than 33,000 jobs and $2 billion in tax base improvements by luring companies including Toyota Motor North America, FedEx, Liberty Mutual Insurance, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One Auto Finance, Cigna, Ericsson, USAA, Tektronix and Pizza Hut & KFC Global.For Bane, Boeing’s latest decision is about more than jobs and tax base. It’s about validation. Perseverence. Redemption.“It’s a real full-circle experience for me, personally, because I was here when we were trying to convince the headquarters to select the region,” Bane said. “It closes that unfinished chapter in my book.”This latest move by Boeing is a divisional headquarters, not a corporate one. Even so, the executive team for Boeing Global Services will serve about 20,000 employees throughout the world. And with a major divisional outpost here, it’s likely that North Texas generally, and Plano specifically, will be on Boeing’s radar for a corporate HQ relocation if and when the company looks to leave Chicago.If it’s not, Bane just might send them a poster.“The business of economic development is a long game,” Bane said. “You work on things for years and years. Not quite 16. But it’s a long, analytical process of understanding the company’s important needs and seeing if your community can be a right fit for them.”