The director of the state Commerce Department’s aerospace sector is leaving for another job after drastic cuts in June to the state’s economic-development budget.
John Thornquist has led aerospace-industry initiatives inside the Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness (OEDC) since April 2016.
“The real story is not my leaving, it’s the fact that OEDC has been cut drastically,” Thornquist said in an interview.
He said the OEDC budget was reduced by $2.5 million in the state budget that was hurriedly passed by legislators in June. He said the office now has just 22 percent of the funding it had three biennial budgets ago.
“How do we function when we have only 22 percent of the money we had before?” Thornquist said.
He is resigning effective Dec.?8 and will join the Cascade Business Group, a private consulting firm based in Bellevue.
Brian Bonlender, director of the Commerce Department, said Thornquist’s comments “are reflective of some frustration people are feeling.”
The budget wasn’t printed up and officially released until the last day possible in June, giving state officials little chance to review the details.
The full implications emerged only later.
“These cuts are certainly impacting our ability to do economic-development work for this state,” Bonlender said. “We are having to cut down some of our international engagement.”
The OEDC coordinates the state’s international trade and export-assistance efforts, as well as recruitment and retention of businesses.
In the aerospace sector, the state typically sends a delegation to major air shows to talk with companies that might open plants or expand work here and to promote exports from small businesses in the state.
Thornquist said the state still plans to send a delegation to next year’s Farnborough Air Show, but “we’re having difficulty finding funds to participate at the same level as in the past.”
Meanwhile, in the Southeast U.S., one of Washington state’s main rivals for airplane-manufacturing work, a major aerospace-suppliers conference has been set up for next year in Mobile, Alabama.
Scott Hamilton, founder of aviation consultancy Leeham.net and an organizer of the new supplier conference in the Southeast, tweeted his disdain for the shortsightedness of this state’s economic development cuts.
“WA Legislators are so myopic. Takes aerospace for granted here,” Hamilton tweeted Friday. “WA Out to Lunch again.”
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