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Top state jobs producer: aerospace

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By Michelle Dunlop
Herald Writer
The face of aerospace in Washington is changing, but the industry still drives a significant portion of job growth in the state.
The aerospace industry, both directly and indirectly, accounted for 28 percent of the state's job growth from 2004 to 2008, according to a new McKinsey & Co. study performed at the state's request. Much of that job growth was fueled by Boeing Co. programs including the company's 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 jumbo jet.
Lawmakers may be disappointed with the Boeing Co.'s decision last fall to put its second 787 jet assembly line in South Carolina rather than Washington. But the McKinsey study, along with a Washington Council on Aerospace report, emphasize not only the importance of the aerospace industry to Washington state but also the challenges the industry faces. The two reports were discussed in a House Economic Development Committee meeting Wednesday.
The McKinsey study found that nearly half of the new jobs created in Washington between 2004 and 2008 were directly or indirectly linked to Boeing and Microsoft. Both companies announced layoffs in the state in 2009.
The study also showed a change in the makeup of aerospace workers in Washington over the last decade. As Boeing has begun to depend on outside companies for bigger portions of production work, the number of aerospace employees involved in research and development has grown to almost the same level as production or core operations workers.
Lawmakers may want to keep the new information in mind and work to seize five or six opportunities in aerospace for the state, Rogers Weed, chairman of the aerospace council and director of the state Department of Commerce, suggested to the House committee on Wednesday.
Weed and the rest of the council spent the last year looking at a long list of challenges to the state's aerospace industry: labor costs that are high compared to other states; a fragmented skills-training system; growing competition; labor disputes; an aging workforce and a lack of skilled workers. The council's report outlines some fixes to specific challenges for lawmakers to consider. For example, creating a center for advanced aerospace research and technology in Washington could cost up to $3 million annually while efforts to recruit people leaving the military into the state's aerospace work force could cost less than $100,000.
Will the state put its efforts behind aerospace research and development in the years to come? Will it help small aerospace companies diversify their businesses? Will it put more funding behind science and engineering education?
With a short session and a budget crisis, the state isn't expected to make any major moves soon. Neither the governor nor the state commerce department have legislation planned in response to the reports, Weed said.
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