June 17, 2008 in Business

OK expected for airport, Cascade plan

By The Spokesman-Review

A Canadian aircraft maintenance company could employ almost 140 next February if the state of Washington comes through with $2 million to modernize a Spokane International Airport hangar.

Within three years, the Cascade Aerospace payroll could expand to 383, with an average wage of $43,238, according to airport officials.

The Community Economic Revitalization Board is expected to act on the airport’s grant application at its July 17 meeting. If approved, the airport will seek bids on electric, mechanical and ventilation work on the hangar, as well as installation of doors big enough to accommodate Boeing 737 and 757 airplanes.

Contracts could be let by mid-August.

Airport spokesman Todd Woodard said most of the work Cascade anticipates for Spokane involves the Boeing planes, “but they can work on virtually anything.”

Cascade is based in Abbotsford, B.C., where the company employs more than 500 in a 250,000-square-foot facility built in 2000.

Clients include Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Icelandair. Cascade also maintains all C-130 Hercules aircraft for Canada’s Air Force.

“It’s just a fascinating, well-run corporation,” said Woodard, who has visited the Abbotsford facility six times.

He said the airport and Cascade have talked about a Spokane facility since 2005. Spokane bested competing communities in Idaho, Montana and Utah based on its labor pool, cost of living and proximity to Abbotsford – a one-hour flight away.

Although Spokane housing values have increased considerably in recent years – to just over an average of $206,000 – by comparison, an average home in Abbotsford costs about $430,000.

Woodard said the Canadian dollar’s value against the U.S. dollar made a facility south of the border that much more attractive.

Cascade could become a mainstay in the growing Inland Northwest cluster of aerospace companies, which exceed 60.

The company’s manpower needs will be a challenge, but one the area’s education institutions are preparing to meet, Woodard said. There are an estimated 650 federally licensed airframe and power plant mechanics within 30 miles of Spokane, he added.

“The potential ripple effect for the community is just tremendous,” Woodard said.

The 31,600-square-foot hangar to be remodeled dates to 1940 or ‘41. Although structurally sound, very few improvements have been made over the decades, Woodard said. The airport bought out a U.S. Air Force lease on the building in 2006 with the hope of securing an agreement with Cascade. The current occupant is Horizon Air, whose lease will expire in January.

To make way for Cascade, the airport will also have to complete a swap of land parcels with the Washington Military Department. Both 12-acre parcels abut the airport.

The airport board Wednesday could approve an agreement for access to the parcel it would acquire, setting the stage for completion of the transaction in 2010.

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