Right goal for Washington

Few, if any, leaders in this state take the Boeing Co. for granted these days. Leaders in both major political parties, as well as those in business and labor, often sound like they’re reading the same talking points when it comes to the importance of the aerospace sector, and particularly Boeing, to the state’s economy.

Progress in aerospace workforce training has been one happy result of such consensus, a topic that was reported in-depth Sunday in The Herald’s special section, “Maximing aerospace.”

The section also looked at the specific — and enormous — economic benefits good-paying aerospace jobs bring to our state, and at the challenges we face in ensuring that future lines of Boeing jetliners are produced here.

Chief among those is the ongoing development of a highly skilled workforce. It’s a long-term imperative (the surest way to create an insurmountable edge for Washington), but with an element of short-term urgency, because large numbers of Boeing’s 82,000-plus Washington workers — primarily machinists and engineers — are nearing retirement.

In response to that fact, and the reality that today’s Boeing has viable alternatives to production sites in Everett and Renton, training efforts have been stepped up on multiple fronts. Government, industry, labor, community colleges and WorkSource have worked together to create updated training programs and get graduates placed into jobs.

Washington isn’t producing enough engineering degrees to keep up with demand, so universities are increasing engineering slots. Washington State University will launch a mechanical engineering degree program this fall at Everett’s University Center. The Legislature, at the urging of Gov. Chris Gregoire, appears set to invest $7.6 million over the next two years to add 850 more engineering slots at state universities.

With four years of labor peace assured by the recent agreement between Boeing and its Machinists Union, a key role for government is to focus on commitment and execution.

Commitment must come in the form of continued growth in funding for education and leading-edge workforce training, and in making it as attractive as possible for aerospace employers to do business here.

Execution, a task to be spearheaded by the governor’s new aerospace director, Alex Pietsch, means actively recruiting with an eye toward diversifying within the aerospace sector, helping aerospace companies through regulatory and permitting processes, and staying attentive to competition posed by other states.

Maximizing aerospace is the right goal for Washington, but we’ll only achieve it by keeping it high on the priority list, where it belongs.