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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Aerospace manufacturing center eyed for Airway Heights

The former Triumph Composites System facility would house the American Aerospace Materials Manufacturing Center.  (Gonzaga University)

Fifty organizations from the Pacific Northwest have banded together in hopes of creating a globally competitive aerospace and aviation manufacturing facility in Airway Heights.

The Inland Northwest Consortium includes industry leaders, venture capitalists, state, local and tribal governments working with project leader Gonzaga University to submit a sweeping application to the U.S. Economic Development Administration as part of its Tech Hubs program.

The program was created as part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which authorizes $10 billion to be invested into local economies to drive technological innovation and strengthen domestic manufacturing.

After a two-phase selection process, five applicants will be awarded funds. The Spokane project hopes to be among them.

If selected, the Inland Northwest Consortium would use funds to create the American Aerospace Materials Manufacturing Center, which would specialize in manufacturing thermoplastic composites, a statement from the organization read.

The project would occupy the former Triumph Composite Systems Inc. building that was shuttered a year ago.

The 386,000-square-foot facility once buzzed with about 600 workers during its manufacturing heyday, according to previous Spokesman-Review reporting.

The 50-acre property near the Spokane International Airport is owned by Spokane-based Lakeside Companies.

The company also owns Advanced Thermoplastic Composites, an aviation and aerospace component manufacturing company in Spokane Valley.

Lakeside Companies has been heavily involved with the application process because of its experience in the industry, which is dominated by foreign firms.

If the U.S. is to lessen its dependency on foreign suppliers, domestic manufacturing capacity must drastically expand, according to Maria Lusardi, marketing director at Lakeside Companies.

“One domestic producer can’t make that happen,” Lusardi said. “To have so many public and private organizations listening to industry leaders is completely unique and a step in the right direction.”

The consortium leaned on input from members in the aerospace industry such as Boeing, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin, which guided focus to the future of aerospace: thermoplastic.

As the industry strives to lower emissions, thermoplastic materials are needed to create aircraft that are lighter and more fuel efficient.

Since U.S. manufacturers must look to foreign suppliers to find these materials, consortium members are aiming to create a more robust domestic supply chain and increase American competitiveness in the global market, according to the statement.

But before the center can begin manufacturing state-of-the-art aerospace tech, there is still a lot to be figured out.

It has yet to be determined how such an operation would be structured.

John Sklut, senior advisor to the president for external and government relations at Gonzaga, said this will come in time.

“We certainly recognize the importance of an effective governing structure,” Sklut said. “Our consortium members will evaluate options and come to a consensus about the best structure to advance the vision.”

As part of a separate application, $15 million of strategic development grants may be allocated to help accelerate the development of plans by potential tech hubs.

The Inland Northwest Consortium filed applications for a tech hub designation and strategic development grants. Results are expected in the fall.