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Pierce County Aerospace Summit focuses on training the workforce

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on July 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
July 27, 2012 3:16 pm

The key to winning more aerospace business for Pierce County and Washington is a better-trained workforce.

That was the central theme Friday of the Pierce County Aerospace Summit where more than 200 aerospace suppliers and contractors gathered at the University of Washington Tacoma to hear aerospace experts talk about how the county can attract more business.

“The aerospace jobs around the world will go where the workers are,” said Alex Pietsch, director of the Washington Office of Aerospace.

Pietsch said the prospects for more aerospace business for the Evergreen State are plentiful if the state can provide the workers trained to do the jobs.

The state is the axis of the aerospace business in the U.S., he said, with some 740 Washington firms producing goods and services for the industry. More than 92,400 workers are employed in the aerospace industry here, he said.

Opportunities for more business will spring from Boeing’s new 737 Max scheduled to be assembled in Boeing’s Renton factory, from the Air Force’s KC-46A aerial tanker being produced in Everett and at Boeing Field, in the proposed upgraded Boeing 777, the 777X, and in the unmanned aerial vehicle, biofuels and air traffic control business, he said.

A recent study showed that while the state is a hub of the aerospace industry with thousands of skilled workers, it faces a potential shortage of both skilled assembly workers and aerospace engineers.

That same study faulted the state for its failure to mount a coordinated approach to retaining and growing the aerospace sector here, he said.

Since that study was released, the governor has established his office to lead aerospace business development in Washington, and the legislature has moved to set aside money to educate 850 new engineers at Washington’s two major public universities and to create programs at community colleges and vocational schools to train new skilled workers.

Pietsch said the state is pursuing work for local aerospace manufacturers not only from Boeing-related projects, but also from Boeing rival Airbus and from other aerospace prime contractors.

A recent trip by a 50-member delegation to the Farnborough Air Show in England, said Susan Suess, senior vice-president of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, led to new orders for at least one Pierce County company and initiated business relationships between potential customers and Pierce County suppliers.

Suess said Washington’s delegation was just one of eight led by governors at the air show. Twenty-one states brought trade missions to the show.

“Aerospace has become a political game, and we need to be in it,” Suess told summit participants.

The mission didn’t result in any decisions by foreign companies to open new plants in Pierce County, but it did create valuable relationships, she said.

“Don’t expect that we’re going to be making any announcements soon,” she said. “It really is about relationship building.”

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