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Space industry booming around Puget Sound

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 28, 2022

The space industry around Puget Sound is booming, in part because of the rapid growth of Jeff Bezos-founded Blue Origin. It’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., is shown on Jan. 6, 2020.  (Tribune News Service)
The space industry around Puget Sound is booming, in part because of the rapid growth of Jeff Bezos-founded Blue Origin. It’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., is shown on Jan. 6, 2020. (Tribune News Service)
By Levi Pulkkinen Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Jet City’s space industry is booming.

That was the upshot of a new economic impact review conducted by the Puget Sound Regional Council, a public-private economic development organization.

The review, released last week, found the region’s space industry has doubled its economic impact in recent years, and accounted for $4.6 billion in economic activity in 2021.

Key to the growth was Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin, the Bezos-founded spacecraft maker headquartered in Kent, Washington, emerged as the region’s major player.

The privately held company in 2020 opened the O’Neill Building, a 232,885-square-foot facility in Kent that can accommodate 1,500 employees.

Additionally, new satellite communications work by Amazon-owned Project Kuiper accounted for significant growth, as did its key competitors, Elon Musk’s satellite venture Starlink and LeoStella, a Tukwila, Washington-based satellite maker owned in part by two European aerospace giants.

Another Kent firm, startup Starfish Space, developing a space junk collector secured $7 million in funding last year, while other smaller firms are developing what’s described as a “satellite rideshare” business and interplanetary spacecraft.

All told, the industry supports 13,103 jobs and $1.6 billion in labor income in the region, according to the regional council report.

Employment and economic activity driven by the regional space economy has doubled since 2018, according to the report.

“Supporting the commercial space sector is an opportunity to expand on the region’s long aerospace history and build resiliency into the region’s economy,” Axel Strakeljahn, a Port of Bremerton commissioner serving on the regional council, said in a statement.

The Puget Sound space economy still lags what the regional council’s analysts described as “traditional space clusters” in Florida, Texas and across the Southeast. Los Angeles and, due to governmental largesse, Washington, D.C., also boast large and growing space economies.Part of the problem is geographic – Washington state’s latitude isn’t conducive to shooting rockets into space, because they need more fuel to turn on to a stable orbit.

The regional council also found the industry is decentralizing; while large rockets still require equally large manufacturing facilities, it doesn’t take a huge workforce and plant to make satellites, spacecraft components or the software that powers them.

The regional council advocates for greater venture capital access for space-related startups, and building the supply chain and talent pipeline servicing the industry.

It’s also seeking expanded tax incentives for spacecraft and satellite manufacturers.

The analysis was performed by BERK consulting and funded by the Aerospace Futures Alliance, an Everett-based trade group.

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