As mom and Shakespeare observed, guard against too much of a good thing.
In the aerospace sector, the Pacific Northwest’s cup runneth over with worthy intentions and a germinating mass of supporting organizations. In Washington, nerve center of the world’s aerospace industry, 70 aerospace organizations claw and cajole toward a shared end, a robust business climate for airplane companies (one Chicago-based behemoth, in particular) and their various suppliers and subsidiaries.
Given the burgeoning number of cooks and cheerleaders, however, why does Washington still lack a statewide aerospace strategy?
In Sunday’s Herald, Michelle Dunlop navigates the tangle of organizations, trying to divine what works and what efforts are de facto redundant. The latest manifestation of aerospace boosterism (and hopefully strategizing) is the Governor’s Aerospace Office led by Alex Pietsch. Pietsch, who also runs the Washington Aerospace Partnership (not to be confused with the Washington Aerospace Council) recognizes a central truth, that the best way to enhance competitiveness is to work in common cause. In practice that means tearing down organizational silos, planning long-term and, yes, consolidating.
On Monday, Herald readers learned of yet another regional initiative, Snohomish County Aerospace in Action, a project of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County. They join the Aerospace Futures Alliance, the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance, Air Washington, the Center for Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Materials Manufacturing, the King County Aerospace Alliance, and dozens of other like-minded groups. The acronym soup and near-identical titles echo a scene from Monty Python’s movie, “Life of Brian.” Are you with the Judean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judea?
Duplication is generally innocuous but inefficient. “Look, we’re doing something,” we can say. “We’ve established a task force that meets quarterly and integrates various stakeholders.” The private sector understands that a natural evolution will take place as multiple organizations fall away. The public sector, and the systemic tendency of quasi-governmental organizations to stay put once they’re rooted in, demands farsighted leadership. That is why the onus is on Piersch and Gov. Gregoire to get beyond the task-force crutch and deliver.
The increasing volume of aerospace initiatives presents a means-ends’ question. If these groups — even those with overlapping tactics and board members — bolster the state’s business climate, then the issue becomes moot. (As one insider noted, a surplus of rah-rah groups is a high-quality problem to have.) Booster efforts are often episodic, tracking with the latest must-get-it fire alarm, such as the successful push to land the 737 MAX. The upwelling of support, however ad hoc, is a windfall for the region and companies such as Boeing.
The mandate is clear. All of these organizations, whether they consolidate or not, must work in concert to nail down a statewide aerospace strategy, and prove Mae West true. As West said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”