Aerospace executives urged to fight for more help

OLYMPIA — Leading Democratic and Republican lawmakers assured aerospace executives Wednesday they want to help one of the state’s strongest industries get even stronger.

They said efforts to enlarge training programs, expand enrollment in college engineering and computer science courses and reform workers compensation, as desired by the industry, are all on the table for action in the final weeks of the legislative session.

But with a budget shortfall, and political differences between the House and Senate, they may not all get done unless the aerospace leaders inject themselves aggressively into the debate, lawmakers cautioned.

“I’m here to give you a reality check,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, told a gathering of the Aerospace Futures Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of the industry. “I really need you guys to fight for aerospace like you do every day but you’ll have to be a little more forceful, you’ll have to be a little louder.”

Washington state is home to more than 650 aerospace companies, including the Boeing Co., Aviation Technical Services of Everett and ElectroImpact of Mukilteo. The industry employs approximately 97,800 people in Washington.

Lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee paraded before 75 members of the alliance which is made up of representatives from aerospace companies, government and education.

“What I saw for aerospace is the commitment that they have made to the aerospace industry is significant and will allow us to move forward in a real positive way,” said Linda Lanham, executive director of the alliance.

Hobbs and two Republican senators, Janea Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, warned revisions in the workers compensation program passed by the Senate are in danger because of political differences with the Democrat-controlled House.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said significant changes made to the program in the last two years need time to take root first.

He focused on the House desire to invest in building a new aerospace training center in Renton and beefing up a program to provide low-interest loans to students of the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field.

And he endorsed a sales tax break for owners of large private planes — which Inslee and several Senate Republicans, including Holmquist Newbry are backing.

“It is not necessarily guaranteed to happen” Chopp said, urging aerospace executives to help convince wary lawmakers of how it will add approximately 2,000 jobs.

Inslee said he wants the state to do a better job encouraging and preparing students for careers in aerospace and high-tech jobs.

He called on industry leaders to assist in pushing a transportation package through the Legislature this year, saying the failure to make major improvements on state highways soon could cost the state aerospace jobs in the future.

“I need some help. We have a total failure of willingness to be a partner right now down here in Olympia,” he said. “We need to get some people to come to the table to work in a bipartisan fashion to try to come up with a transportation package.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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