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A Boeing 787 jet flies over Mount Rainier. (Credit: Boeing)

Longtime engineering executive John Thornquist has been chosen to head up Washington state’s Office of Aerospace, just as the state’s $70 billion-plus industry sector is heading into a time of transition.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced the selection today, and Thornquist takes over the director’s reins on Tuesday.

Thornquist was managing director, CEO and co-founder of Carbon Aerospace, an Everett-based consulting firm specializing in carbon composite structures. Before his time at Carbon, he was a co-founder of Global Aerosystems in Everett, which later became Kaman Engineering Services. Under Thornquist’s leadership, Kaman earned Boeing supplier of the year honors in 2013.

John Thornquist
John Thornquist (via LinkedIn)

“The aerospace sector is a major economic driver for our state, and I’m delighted to welcome John aboard in his new role,” Inslee said in today’s announcement. “With his strong industry background, John will be a highly effective liaison between business and government as we work together to keep our state in its pre-eminent position as a global leader in aerospace innovation and manufacturing.”

Thornquist said he looked forward to working with state officials, businesses and other stakeholders to “keep growing and strengthening this vital industry sector.” He’ll be based in the state Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness.

The biggest challenge facing Washington’s aerospace industry is the outlook for significant job reductions at the Boeing Co., the state’s largest employer. By some accounts, Boeing’s Washington state workforce of roughly 80,000 could be reduced by as much as 10 percent over the coming year.

At the same time, Washington’s fledgling space industry is on the rise – led by Blue Origin (founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos), Vulcan Aerospace (backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Planetary Resources (supported by a bevy of billionaires) and Spaceflight Inc. The Seattle area also hosts satellite facilities for California-based SpaceX and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Thornquist succeeds Alex Pietsch, who left the Office of Aerospace last year to become an industry liaison for Washington State University. Thornquist is a graduate of Arizona State University in mechanical engineering and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

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