Diversification at Paine Field

The future of Paine Field is (wisely) predicated on diversification. Managed the right way, its economic blueprint can be a template for Everett and the rest of Snohomish County.

And that requires investment, creativity and moving beyond all-things-Boeing.

As The Herald’s Dan Catchpole and Noah Haglund reported Sunday, Boeing was the springboard in the mid-1960s, jump-starting an otherwise sleepy former Air Force facility. Within a couple decades, Boeing’s expanded production line and attendant employment swelled. Aviation Technical Services Inc. (formerly Tramco) established itself, growing into one of the nation’s leading aviation maintenance and repair operations. Boeing suppliers such as Korry, BE Aerospace, UTC Aerospace Systems and Honeywell took root along with multiple small businesses.

Today, Paine Field is an economic linchpin.

“Its main importance is that it’s the launching pad for virtually all the Boeing widebody programs,” Alex Pietsch, the governor’s top adviser on aerospace, told The Herald.

The stats are staggering. By county estimates, Paine Field pumps $40 billion into the economy annually and supports 42,000 Boeing jobs alone.

The latest diversification brainstorm involves a composite-material manufacturing research lab with satellite locations in Port Angeles and Los Angeles (hopefully elevating the clean-energy industry by producing storage tanks strong enough to accommodate compressed fuels.)

Education and job training also are key components. The opening in 2010 of the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field, championed by state Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, provides an institutional pipeline for the aerospace and manufacturing sectors.

All of this requires prudence and a long view of the area’s strengths and weaknesses. For nearly a quarter century, Dave Waggoner shepherded Paine Field, delivering for the airport and the county. His retirement this month leaves a leadership vacuum that will be very tough to fill. That includes a patience-is-a-virtue MO.

“We don’t put a high priority on developing quickly. I would rather wait for something that’s going to be here for 50 years,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner’s wisdom should inform the future of commercial aviation at Paine Field, which would get off on the wrong foot if we gave away land, forfeited control over construction or yielded management of a terminal to a single airline.

Market demand will drive investment. And thanks to Waggoner’s dedicated service, Paine Field should thrive for years to come.

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