March 31, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Aerospace, painting firms would be boon to region


A year ago, before anyone foresaw the depth of the coming economic plunge, a Canadian aircraft maintenance company’s planned entry into Spokane raised expectations of still more good news ahead.

Now, however, gloom has arrived with the force of a tornado, and guess what? Aerospace hopes are still high.

Thanks to a loan from the state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board, Cascade Aerospace set up shop on schedule in February at Spokane International Airport. By next February its work force is expected to be in the neighborhood of 140 jobs – jobs that pay considerably better than the median income in Spokane.

The British Columbia firm, which is expected eventually to have as many as 500 employees, already has decided it needs to build an additional hangar.

Now comes another spinoff from Cascade’s decision to set up an operation in Spokane. Associated Painters, an Everett company, wants to relocate to Spokane, where its finish work would complement the outfitting that Cascade performs on airliners. (If you’ve seen Alaska Airlines’ “Salmon-Thirty-Salmon” – a Boeing 737 painted to look like a fish – you’ve seen Associated’s work.)

Associated’s move depends on approval of a $3.9 million CERB loan like the one Cascade received last year. While Spokane International Airport will have to make a compelling case to get the board’s OK, the good news is that the application is being submitted in time to go on CERB’s May agenda. After that, the impact of the current legislative session’s severe budget austerity could constrict available funding.

The Spokane move is attractive from Associated’s perspective not just because of the advantage of teaming with Cascade, but because Spokane is an easier and less expensive location for clients to send their planes and crews than Paine Field in Everett.

As the aerospace cluster gains importance in the Spokane-area economy, it doesn’t hurt to have a community college program in place to train aviation mechanics. In time, Airport Director Neal Sealock hopes other aircraft upkeep niches may be filled by other companies. Hydraulics could provide the next opportunity, he believes.

First, the CERB loan needs to be secured, and while that’s not certain, it should be clear to board members that last year’s investment in the Cascade Aerospace project is paying off in the kind of economic expansion that the loans are intended to foster.

When so much of the economic news is negative, positive developments like this need to be embraced and encouraged.

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