New aero-booster group in Snohomish County

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

EVERETT — While the state sorts out a coordinated plan to encourage the aerospace industry, a group in Snohomish County has a local strategy.

Snohomish County Aerospace in Action consists of representatives from government, industry and education. It was organized by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. The group’s goals are a lot like of many aerospace businesses: constantly improve and do what it takes to stay competitive.

“Sustaining isn’t much fun,” said Troy McClelland, CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, but “sustaining is what’s absolutely necessary.”

It’s a different approach than what other local and state aerospace groups have taken in the past.

In 2003, a group coalesced within the county, as well as one within the state, to win the competition to land final assembly of the Boeing Co.’s 787. And like the statewide group, the county’s went dormant after Boeing picked Everett.

Today, Alex Pietsch, director of the Governor’s Office of Aerospace, is working on a statewide aerospace plan that will consider how some 70 groups related to aerospace can play a role.

In Snohomish County, the short term goal is pretty simple: “We’re trying to understand what we need to show companies like Boeing that we’re ready for (production) rate increases or new derivative” airplanes, McClelland said.

Boeing has been speeding aircraft production at its Everett facility, pushing the aerospace supply chain in the county to keep up. As production increases, so does the need for trained workers.

The committee largely has been focused on workforce training and ensuring that the education system puts enough emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, which are subjects key in aerospace. Children who are in kindergarten through sixth grade are the ones who will be building many of the 34,000 aircraft that Boeing projects will be needed over the next 20 years, McClelland said.

John Monroe, chief operating officer of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, acknowledged that schools and community colleges still have to operate within the constraints of tight budgets.

But “if you truly understand what the need is, it’s easier to prioritize,” said Monroe, a former Boeing executive.

Ultimately, the focus on STEM and training will help support other industries, too, creating a more stable and diversified business environment in the county. That’s part of the group’s long-term goal.

Monroe and McClelland believe local government and education officials have been “very responsive” to the needs of the aerospace industry. In the past, government leaders and educators often didn’t know if they were working toward the right goal. They would respond to Boeing’s or the industry’s needs for a specific project.

“It was almost like a sigh of relief” for education and government leaders to have a consistent approach for living up to aerospace’s needs, McClelland said.

With 160 aerospace-related companies in the county, it wasn’t difficult to convince people to get involved in the Aerospace in Action committee, he said.

As McClelland and Monroe hear from county aerospace suppliers about their needs, they loop in the state by participating in some of the larger organized aerospace groups.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454;