By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers here are sending mixed messages about support of the aerospace industry, with one chamber proposing to fund the governor’s Office of Aerospace and the other chamber ignoring it.
The split is between budget measures in the Democratic House, which would fund the office, and the Republican-led state Senate, which has passed a budget that would not.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers in South Carolina, Washington’s rising aerospace rival, are on a fast track to approve $120 million in incentives for the Boeing Co. Boeing, in turn, plans to create 2,000 additional jobs and invest $1 billion for expansion in North Charleston over the next eight years.
Washington legislators have kept an eye on Boeing’s growing footprint at the Charleston, S.C., airport — more than 6,000 jobs there so far — while working to meet the needs of a bustling aerospace industry here.
“I think it proves we live in a global economy and we need to remain competitive,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, referring to the activity in South Carolina.
Hobbs, however, voted for the Senate budget that strips funding for the aerospace office.
Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, didn’t.
“I don’t believe that budget sends the right message,” Harper said.
The budget proposal by Democrats in the House would not only fund the aerospace office, including the director’s position, but would throw in $200,000 to “implement strategies to retain and grow aerospace-related jobs.”
The Office of Aerospace was created more than a year ago. Former Gov. Chris Gregoire followed the advice of consultants who completed a study of Washington’s competitiveness in the aerospace industry.
The idea of having a director or office of aerospace in the state goes back to 2003, when lawmakers gave Boeing and the industry $3.2 billion in incentives to land the original 787 final assembly line for Everett.
“Hasn’t Olympia learned anything?” Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst with Leeham Co., said of the Senate’s budget. “Having an office of aerospace elevates the (industry’s) importance.”
Alex Pietsch, director of the office of aerospace, didn’t want to comment on funding for his own position. Asked about the $200,000 in additional money for the office, Pietsch linked those dollars with the state’s effort to secure assembly in Washington of the 777X.
The money would be matched by the Washington Aerospace Partnership, which also pays part of Pietsch’s salary. The partnership and the governor are expected to unveil specifics about the plan to win the 777X in the coming weeks, Pietsch said.
“We’re trying to create a true public-private partnership,” he said of the effort.
In Everett last week, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said the state needs to focus on two key areas — transportation and education — to remain competitive for the 777X, an updated version of the twin-aisle jet that is now assembled exclusively in Everett. Boeing is expected to seek approval this month from its board of directors to begin offering the 777X to customers.
Although aerospace has a long history in the state, dating back nearly 100 years to the early days of Bill Boeing’s company, Washington has lacked a long-term strategy for aerospace. Analyst Hamilton served as a consultant to Gregoire in 2010, helping to outline a “beyond Boeing” plan, the first of its kind for the state.
Today, the task of developing and implementing a state strategy rests largely on the shoulders of Pietsch, whose position is in jeopardy if the Senate has its way. In coming weeks, the House and Senate will seek a compromise over the budget, each trying to maintain as much of their original plan as possible.
Industry lobbyist Linda Lanham, executive director of the Aerospace Futures Alliance, was upbeat this week about the prospects of getting funding for projects her group supports.
For instance, both the House and Senate budgets retain money for a loan program for students to attend short-term aerospace training at Everett’s Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center. A measure to create a similar center in Renton could also get funding, though not as much as Lanham had requested. Both sides also support the idea of increasing engineering slots at state universities.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report. Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org.