Mention the aerospace industry in Washington state, and the company that comes to mind is Boeing.
But as Gov. Chris Gregoire and a host of economic development specialists around the state keep insisting, businesses all across Washington have a stake in the field, and not just as bit players to Boeing’s starring role. Clearly, Boeing has a commanding impact – keep an eye on the media blitz that will be triggered in about a month when the 787 Dreamliner finally makes its first flight – but other communities, including Spokane, are counting on their aerospace clusters for significant job creation.
No wonder there was disappointment in this region last week when the state Community Economic Revitalization Board refused a $6.8 million loan that would have financed a new facility for aircraft maintenance and painting at Spokane International Airport. That building would have continued an expansion that began in February when Cascade Aerospace USA set up shop at the airport, thanks in part to an earlier CERB loan.
Both Cascade and Associated Painters have identified Spokane as an attractive location for their operations – operations that already have generated local jobs and eventually will have hundreds on their payrolls. In terms of wages, those jobs are above the Spokane median, and the aviation-related activities also generate business for local suppliers.
So although the loan that was sought by the airport and the two businesses would have stretched the state agency’s usual limits, it had the advantage of being tied to the prospect of immediate jobs, backed by a successful track record involving Canada-based Cascade, which dedicated its first maintenance facility here earlier this month.
The local partners were offered an alternative loan for $4 million and have said they will try to salvage their plans. Given the mutual benefits for the airport and the prospective tenants, they have ample incentives to make it happen.
Still, the unsuccessful loan request was an opportunity missed, given Gregoire’s recent creation of an Aerospace Council that has been charged with keeping the state competitive in the contest for jobs, investment and exports.
Spokane has a lot riding on the success of that initiative, but it also has a lot to offer, starting with several dozen businesses that already are members of a local aerospace consortium, Goodrich Corp., Triumph Composites and Kaiser Aluminum among them.
Spokane Community College’s growing aircraft maintenance program is another vital cog in this sector of Spokane’s economic development efforts, especially given the importance Gregoire and others place on the quality of Washington’s work force. Other states have surreptitiously sent agents into Washington to learn more about our training programs to emulate them, according to the governor.
The job of the Aerospace Council will be to make sure we maintain our advantages and mitigate our shortcomings. That will be good for Boeing, good for Spokane and good for the state.