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Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, shown here with Boeing’s Everett plant in the background, says he intends to keep the state on the “cutting edge” in aerospace. (Credit: Jay Inslee via Flickr)

LYNNWOOD, Wash. – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee today laid out a down-to-earth prescription for keeping the Evergreen State competitive in the aerospace industry, which a new report says is having a steady economic impact.

“I’ve lived here for 65 years, and I’ve never been more confident about aerospace and the future in the state of Washington,” the first-term Democratic governor told an audience here at the 11th annual Governor’s Aerospace Summit, presented by the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington.

A draft assessment, prepared by Seattle-based Community Attributes for the Washington Aerospace Partnership, estimates the state aerospace industry’s total impact during 2015 at $94.7 billion in revenues, which is 9.4 percent above the previous year’s figure.

Employment in aerospace and related industries was estimated at 136,100 jobs in 2015, up from 132,500 in 2012. That doesn’t include the impact of Boeing workforce reductions that were announced this year.

When indirect effects such as spending by aerospace workers are taken into account, the employment impact rises to 252,800 jobs.

The report says aerospace employees earned an average wage of $107,000, not including benefits, which is nearly twice the state’s overall average wage of $54,000.

“This report shows us why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect and grow the aerospace industry in Washington,” said John Thornquist, director of the state’s Office of Aerospace.

Governor’s vision of the future

Such efforts were the focus of Inslee’s remarks. Rather than dwelling on advances in aerodynamics, the governor ticked off five factors that he saw as the keys to the industry’s success:

Cultivate a talented workforce: Inslee touted the state’s efforts to boost the “whole pipeline” of education and training, ranging from early-childhood education to high-school apprenticeship programs to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarships. “When a 3-year-old kid has maybe a little speech difficulty … we deal with that at age 3 so they end up as an aerospace engineer someday instead of [ending up at] Walla Walla penitentiary.”

Upgrade transportation infrastructure: The governor praised the bipartisan $16 billion Connecting Washington funding package, which provided a boost for highway construction as well as mass transit, bike paths and other infrastructure. Because of the upgrades, “we can move engines, and we can move machinists from home to work sites, and we can move our products,” Inslee said. “We’re moving the needle on the terrestrial side so we can continue to grow on the aerospace side.”

Boost support for exports: Last year, Congress overcame conservative resistance and reauthorized the Export-Import Bank, which plays a key role in making and guaranteeing loans to foreign buyers of U.S. goods. That role is beneficial for aerospace exports, so much so that the agency has sometimes been called “the Bank of Boeing.” Inslee said the next step should be for “the U.S. Senate to wake up, get off the extended coffee break and fill the bank with a quorum so it can actually function.”

Foster innovation: Inslee called particular attention to advanced manufacturing techniques and biofuel research and development. He also cited the example of the Composite Recycling Technology Center in Port Angeles, which is pioneering efforts to convert carbon-fiber waste materials into useful products. Inslee noted with pride that Washington was No. 1 on Bloomberg’s state-by-state ranking of innovation in 2013. (Since then, however, the state has fallen to No. 3, behind Massachusetts and California.)

Strengthen the supply chain: Boeing may be the jewel of the crown when it comes to Washington state’s aerospace industry, but Inslee said he’s also interested in bringing more companies to the state. “Since I took office in 2013, the Department of Commerce has assisted 30 aerospace companies in expanding or relocating their operations in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. Just last week, the first of four Mitsubishi Regional Jet planes flew from Japan to Moses Lake for flight tests.

“We are the cutting edge, and we intend to keep it that way,” Inslee said.

Boeing’s vision of the future

Earlier in the day, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ vice president of product development, Mike Sinnett, provided his own long-range view of the aerospace frontier. One option under consideration is to “grow the [737 MAX] 9 into another airplane,” he said.

Much has been said about Boeing’s plans to develop a “middle of the market” airplane that would be bigger than the 737 single-aisle family but smaller than the company’s current line of wide-body jets.

“There’s a really unique space in the market, a really unique opportunity for potentially thousands of airplanes in that market, if we can figure out specifically what our customers need, and we can figure out a way to do it, and it makes sense from a business perspective,” Sinnett said. “So, that’s something that could happen in the next 10 years. We’re working hard to understand that market.”

In the 20- to 30-year time frame, Boeing could be working on new types of products ranging from autonomous electric-powered cargo planes, to aircraft that have engines integrated into their airframes, to supersonic jets.

Sinnett said Boeing’s move into supersonic transport would depend on customer demand as well as technological progress. “The technologies aren’t there yet, but they’re getting better,” he said.

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