Inslee seeks millions for aero education, training

LYNNWOOD — Washington’s aerospace industry has a new advocate: Gov. Jay Inslee.

“If you are a company that maybe can see some opportunity in Washington state, I want to be your best friend,” Inslee told about 400 industry representatives Wednesday at a conference here. “If you’re considering doing work elsewhere … then we need to talk right away.”

Inslee’s address to the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference came just hours after he outlined a $120 million jobs program for the state. Part of that program includes investing millions of dollars to educate and train workers for the aerospace industry.

The Democratic governor’s proposals include up to $20 million in tax breaks for businesses hiring recent military veterans and another $8 million in tax incentives for startup companies in fields ranging from industrial-machinery manufacturing to software publishing.

The governor, a self-described aerospace addict, vowed to take a sustained, proactive approach to keep Washington competitive in the aerospace business. That includes bolstering the state’s education and transportation systems.

The state faces some tough competition for aerospace jobs from the likes of Texas, South Carolina and Alabama. But Washington’s governor thinks he and the state are up to the challenge.

“We’ve got to be in the game of competition,” Inslee told reporters after his address at the PNAA conference. “If you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.”

The first competition on the docket for Inslee and Washington: winning work on the Boeing Co.’s 777X, an upgraded version of the twin-aisle jet built in Everett. Boeing hasn’t begun taking customer orders for the aircraft but is expected to do so within the next year.

Inslee is seeking $5 million to add 500 slots in high-demand aerospace-related courses at community and technical colleges throughout Washington. He also wants to pump another $1 million into a revolving loan program for students in the state’s three aerospace training centers, including the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center in Everett.

And the governor said he will ask lawmakers to provide $750,000 for Washington State University to launch an electrical engineering program at the University Center on the campus of Everett Community College.

Inslee’s multi-pronged approach also calls for boosting instruction of science, technology, engineering and math in high schools and colleges, encouraging expansion of clean energy companies and underwriting research and development which might spawn new industries.

“The most important thing I can do is to provide skilled workers to you,” Inslee told aerospace leaders Wednesday night.

Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat who leads the Republican-dominated state Senate majority, said his caucus is broadly supportive of Inslee’s job-creation goals and said he looked forward to seeing more details from the governor.

Inslee said he doesn’t know how many jobs might result from the total $120 million plan.

“If I did have a crystal ball, I would tell you how many,” he said. “I do not have a crystal ball.”

With his aerospace plan proposed, Inslee also promised to do his best to market Washington to the industry, including attending this summer’s Paris Air Show.

Inslee doesn’t seem worried about how companies outside the state or country would perceive ongoing issues between Boeing and labor unions. The company’s 22,950 engineers and technical workers are voting soon on a new contract and whether to give union leaders strike authority. After a 2008 strike by Boeing machinists, the company selected South Carolina over Everett as home for a second 787 production line.

“I think we are an extremely attractive place to do business,” Inslee said after his speech.

And “we have a governor who is totally committed to aerospace.”

Inslee’s aerospace proposals are part of a package that would provide tax breaks for new companies in certain targeted fields and create a commission to ensure that state colleges and universities turn out students with math- and science-based skills relevant to the needs of the economy.

“We’re rolling out today an action agenda for a working Washington” with an underlying focus on innovation, growing human intellectual capital and aligning the state with the needs of new and expanding industries, Inslee said earlier Wednesday in Olympia.

With climate change a central campaign theme for Inslee, who was sworn in last month, he said he planned to engage the Legislature in creating a plan that would grow the state’s economy while limiting its carbon footprint.

Along similar lines, Inslee proposed several million dollars be spent on electrical energy storage and building electric car charging stations.

Inslee also said he expected that the state’s expansion of Medicaid using federal dollars — approval of which is under consideration in the Legislature — would create more than 10,000 jobs.

The governor added that he supported a robust transportation spending plan and did not rule out backing a rise in the state’s gas tax to help fund it.

Republican leaders in the Legislature declared themselves broadly supportive of Inslee’s job-creation goals but insisted time is of the essence, with only a few days left for legislative committees to hear new policy-related bills.

“It’s one thing to go out and say you’re going to change the world and do something different,” said House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, a Republican from Chehalis. “But if you miss your timelines — oops — then that doesn’t work for anybody. So he’s got to pick up the pace.”

The Associated Press and Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report from Olympia. Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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