Will our future take off?

Smart investors put their money today in industries that will pay back dividends in the future.

Aerospace is one of those industries, and if we as a region invest wisely now, we and our children will reap the dividends.

Last Sunday, we discussed the crucial role aerospace plays in Snohomish County, employing 16 percent of our county’s working people and generating almost 30 percent of all wages. Aerospace is truly our region’s lifeblood, but as we know, we can’t assume the industry will always be here. Instead, we must continue to invest in resources that support aerospace. By doing this, we create a competitive business environment that fosters a diverse economy.

What is the payoff for making these investments today? Let’s look ahead 20 years and use our imagination.

With a regional economy fueled by a booming aerospace industry and staggeringly low unemployment, Snohomish County in 2032 is a global case study in economic development best practices. The region has succeeded because specific targeted investments were made by a coalition of government, education, business and labor.

A major factor was a renewed commitment to education. As a result, Snohomish County became home to a Washington State University branch campus with an enrollment of roughly 5,000 students across disciplines. This school graduates hundreds of world-class engineers annually, most of whom end up working for aerospace companies in Puget Sound. Increasing numbers of them are going to work for advanced manufacturers in other industries that have moved here to tap into our deep pool of highly skilled workers.

The University of Washington Bothell has become a national leader in biomedical research and development, thanks to investments made 20 years ago, and now graduates more than 1,000 students with science and technical degrees annually. Our community and technical colleges — notably Everett and Edmonds community colleges, but also Cascadia and Skagit Valley — are handling record enrollments, with some students preparing to transfer to four-year schools while others train for good-paying, high-skill vocational careers right here in North Puget Sound. The success of these colleges stems from their alignment with industry partners, preparing students for in-demand jobs in local industries and helping incumbent workers improve their skills.

The investments in education also have given rise to the Northwest’s first research and development park, a mix of public and privately funded research and development facilities in one campus. This is a place where academics, entrepreneurs, students and investors collaborate to find commercial applications for science developed at UW, WSU and their branch campuses. The world-class research park develops patents, creates strong intellectual property and attracts venture capitalists from around the world.

This has helped spur new growth in Bothell, Mill Creek and Canyon Park, where pharmaceutical manufacturers have established themselves, and a dozen new biotech research companies have joined the existing cluster. The region’s Medical Device Intellectual Property Zone has continued to flourish. All this concentrated biotech and biomedical brain power has mixed with doctors at Everett’s Providence Regional Medical Center and The Everett Clinic, and the result has been the creation of new health-care companies.

The Port of Everett has continued to grow, as Washington continues to be one of the nation’s largest exporters. Thanks to strong lobbying efforts on the state, local and federal level, Naval Station Everett is now home to a dozen warships, employing more than 12,000 people and contributing $1 billion in direct impact to the region. Additionally, Naval Station Everett is touted as a global leader in energy efficiency and waste mitigation.

Above all, the region has managed to capitalize on its signature industry — aerospace. Boeing continues its major presence at Paine Field, and new aerospace suppliers and top-tier manufacturers have set up operations. The industry has spread countywide, with an aerospace corridor spanning from the southern county line north through Marysville and Arlington into Skagit County, and east to Monroe and further along U.S. 2.

Investments in transportation infrastructure, made decades ago to assist in the growth of the aerospace industry, are also paying off. It’s easier now to move people and products around the region. Swift Bus Rapid Transit has expanded beyond the Highway 99 corridor. Sound Transit has extended light rail north to downtown Everett, making it easier for Snohomish County residents to commute into Seattle and Bellevue, and vice versa. These new transportation alternatives have significantly reduced traffic on I-5.

We’ve invested in our highways, too. A rebuilt trestle connects downtown Everett to Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Monroe and other East County communities on U.S. 2. Highways 9, 522 and 531 have been rebuilt and expanded, offering safe, streamlined routes between Everett, Lynnwood, Marysville and Arlington.

The Snohomish County PUD has continued to lead the nation in exploring energy alternatives like solar, geothermal and tidal energy and created one of the most diverse and ecological energy portfolios in the country, deriving most of its power from a wide variety of renewable sources. This innovation and leadership has raised awareness of the need for environmental sustainability, and as a result, Snohomish County has one of the best recycling rates in the country.

Tourism remains a viable industry in Snohomish County. Thanks to far-sighted investments by tribal leaders, Tulalip has become the Northwest’s premiere destination entertainment hub, with upscale national retail shopping, a five-star hotel, casino and events center, all drawing tens of thousands of visitors weekly. Aerospace also draws tourists — more than a half million now visit Snohomish County every year to tour the Boeing facility, Future of Flight and Flying Heritage collection. The combination has helped turn tourism into a multi-billion dollar industry countywide, and fueled the establishment of a WSU hospitality program at its branch campus.

Expanded employment in high-skill, high-wage industries has brought prosperity countywide. Everett is vibrant, filled with new restaurants, arts and entertainment venues, creating a host of options for the growing legions of young professionals.

Marysville and Arlington flourish as high-tech manufacturing centers with revitalized downtowns supporting the thousands of new families in the area; connected north and south with world class transportation and communications infrastructure.

Lynnwood’s City Center project is complete, utilizing a mix of light rail, transit and roadways to support the new and existing high-end retail, business quadrants and mid-rise offices.

Downtown Snohomish and East County are home to a new center of wineries, breweries and distilleries, creating another tourism draw and improving the quality of life for locals.

The Edmonds and Everett waterfronts are destinations, while Mukilteo and Stanwood have been able to finance new waterfront facilities, creating public waterfront spaces for tourists and locals alike. All four benefit from transportation hubs serving transit, rail and vehicle traffic that connects their downtowns to the region.

The investment in higher education to benefit aerospace has also paid off in better public schools. Our public schools are thriving and leading in early childhood education programs as well as increased student graduation — implemented models are recognized nationally and drawing increased public and private investment through grants and corporate gifts. An increased tax base has resulted in new parks and improvements to existing ones. Social services for the retired, elderly and less fortunate have been improved with greater public and donor support. The arts scene is thriving, with greater support for both fine and performing arts resulting in art walks and a local music scene.

Is this all extremely optimistic? Perhaps, but none of these things are out of reach, if we go to work today. If we want to create a robust, diversified regional economy and renowned quality of life, we have a lot of work to do.

Today, we’re faced with the realization that the aerospace industry impacts all businesses, from our biggest employers to our smallest entrepreneurs. Ultimately, the industry affects everyone, whether they work in it or not. For that reason, our region must focus and align on the priorities needed to help aerospace remain ours, if we are to create a region where we want our children and grandchildren to be raised.

Fortunately, Economic Alliance Snohomish County is already at work on measures needed to ensure a competitive region, and to see that aerospace remains our economic base. Protecting and increasing our success in aerospace is the catalyst to diversifying our economy, and the key to our collective future and success.

About the authors

Troy McClelland is president of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Richard Cooper, CEO of The Everett Clinic, is the Economic Alliance’s board chair. Learn more at www.economicalliancesc.org.

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