Idaho college trains students in aerospace business

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — North Idaho College opened a new training center in an effort to get students ready to work for regional aerospace businesses.

The Aerospace Center for Excellence, which operates in a converted pole barn near the Coeur d’Alene Airport, has 40 students enrolled, The Spokesman-Review reported Friday. They are learning composite-materials fabrication and repair, skills used at many aerospace businesses in Spokane, Kootenai and Bonner counties.

North Idaho College President Joe Dunlap said the outlook for the industry is high, and 25 aerospace businesses have recently sprung up in northern Idaho alone. They are part of an industry that anticipates sharp growth in passengers, cargo and airliner replacement in the next 20 years, he said.

“We want to do our part to contribute to that,” Dunlap said.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little stopped by the aerospace center Thursday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Otter paid tribute to those who made it happen.

“You had a belief that you were the architects of your own destiny,” he said.

The governor also noted that an aerospace sector established itself in the area before a community training program was developed.

“They also had faith,” he said about those companies. “They had faith in the economic climate, they had faith in the regulatory climate, they had faith in the climate that they found in northern Idaho.”

Tim Komberec is CEO of Hayden-based Empire Airlines, a FedEx feeder carrier, and Empire Aerospace, which performs heavy maintenance on regional-size turboprop planes. He said in the past he’s had to train employees on the job or send them out of state to learn the necessary skills. Komberec said he’s excited that the training now can happen practically next door.

The aerospace center was established with a $2.97?million federal grant and is expected to create 520 new jobs by 2015, with the average salary estimated at $43,500, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.

Over the next two years, the college will roll out three more aerospace programs: quality assurance and nondestructive testing; manufacturing and machining operations; and airframe maintenance. Total enrollment is expected to reach 80 to 100 students.

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