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John Thornquist at Chinook Enterprises
John Thornquist, the director of Washington state’s Office of Aerospace, visits Chinook Enterprises in Mount Vernon, Wash., in August 2016. (Chinook Enterprises Photo)

The head of Washington state’s Office of Aerospace, John Thornquist, says he’s returning to the private sector next month due to frustrations over state budget cuts.

“I’m not trying to leave in a huff,” said Thornquist, who was named to the post by Gov. Jay Inslee 19 months ago. “I loved the job that we were doing for aerospace, but things have moved on, and I’m moving on.”

Thornquist said he tendered his resignation a couple of weeks ago, and will be leaving his job in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness, or OEDC, on Dec. 8 after tying up loose ends.

After a weekend off, he’ll start his new job as director of consulting services for Bellevue, Wash.-based Cascade Business Group. Thornquist said he’ll continue to focus on aerospace as well as the software and retail industries.

Thornquist said the OEDC has been hard-hit by budget reductions over the past few years. Most recently, the funding for international trade assistance has been reduced by 60 percent, he said.

“You get frustrated with the Legislature, and opportunities come up, and you say, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s time to make a change,'” he told GeekWire.

Washington state’s aerospace industry is in the midst of a series of significant transitions. On the space side, relatively new companies such as SpaceX, Spaceflight Industries and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are raising their profile in the state. At the same time, traditional aerospace employers such as the Boeing Co. are facing new competitive challenges.

Boeing’s workforce in Washington state has had to weather significant layoffs during Thornquist’s tenure, and there could be tough negotiations ahead as the aerospace giant mulls production of a new middle-of-the-market airplane known unofficially as the 797.

“As a state, we have to make sure that we protect the aerospace jobs that we have,” Thornquist said. He noted that the aerospace industry’s family-wage jobs are the envy of many other states, and “they would love to take those jobs from us.”

Thornquist’s departure was first reported by Puget Sound Business Journal, which quoted Inslee’s office as saying that the Department of Commerce is looking at candidates to fill his spot.

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