Paine Field Airport Director Arif Ghouse. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Paine Field Airport Director Arif Ghouse. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

This county is ready to take off — and not just at the airport

Commercial air service is just one of several big factors likely to drive business in 2019.

EVERETT — It’s as if Snohomish County got a fancy new haircut and a sporty new car.

Phone calls are being returned. We’re getting second looks.

If the government approves it, the start of commercial passenger service at Paine Field in Everett promises to be 2019’s most visible business game-changer.

“Organizations that were previously not that excited about us are now saying, ‘Yes, we need to talk,’” said Amy Spain, executive director of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau.

Said Paine Field’s airport director, Arif Ghouse: “It’s going to have a huge economic impact on Snohomish County.” He’s been shepherding the Snohomish County-owned airport since 2014 and overseeing the final push for airline service.

In 2015, Propeller Airports, a private company, and the county inked a 30-year lease agreement. Propeller has built and will manage a new two-gate terminal. With the $40 million-plus building now ready, two airlines — Alaska and United — are poised for takeoff.

Air service isn’t the only thing likely to warm the business climate in 2019. “It’s just one piece of what’s up with Snohomish County,” said Andrew Skotdal, president of office and industrial properties at Skotdal Real Estate.

Expanded higher educational programs, development of the Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Industrial Center and the completion of a major Port of Everett project are also high on the list of economic factors.

And then there’s Boeing.

This photo of the new terminal’s interior was taken in November. (Janice Podsada/ Herald file)

This photo of the new terminal’s interior was taken in November. (Janice Podsada/ Herald file)

Paine Field

The convenience of scheduled air service in Everett goes without saying. It also promises to reframe the county’s growth and how it markets itself.

“When you’re trying to entice businesses, especially those from outside the county, the first thing they ask about is airport service,” Ghouse said.

Until recently, the only thing you could tell prospective companies was to allow at least 1½ hours for the “dismal drive” to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Ghouse said.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers couldn’t agree more. Over the years, he’s given similar instructions to out-of-towners.

Not long ago, a cancer research firm visited the county in search of a corporate site, Somers said.

High on their list of wants was airport access.

A two-hour commute to Sea-Tac, however, wasn’t what the company had in mind, Somers said. “Now we can at least call them back.”

Between baggage handlers, parking staff and other workers, the terminal will employ 200 to 300, Ghouse said. The airport is adding 29 employees for security and firefighting.

The county will receive about $54,000 a month in rent from Propeller, along with a share of ticket and parking revenue.

“It’s big news for 2019, but it’s something that’s been worked on for a long time, probably 50 years,” Ghouse said.

Air service should benefit the local tourism industry right away, with economic benefits accruing in three to five years, Snohomish County Councilman Terry Ryan said.

This photo of the new terminal’s entgrance was taken in November. (Janice Podsada/ Herald file)

This photo of the new terminal’s entgrance was taken in November. (Janice Podsada/ Herald file)

Shipping

The Port of Everett, a key player in the Boeing Co.’s aerospace supply chain, expects to wrap up a $36 million project to modernize its largest container dock, port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said.

The upgrade will enable the South Terminal dock to accommodate larger vessels and heavier cargo, including parts for the new Boeing 777X, Lefeber said.

Boeing

Boeing plans to test-drive the 777X soon, with commercial deliveries set to start in 2020, company spokesman Todd Kelley said.

Boeing also is expected to announce whether it will build a new mid-market airplane, the so-called 797 — and where.

Analysts, who describe development of the 797 as a $10 billion to $15 billion project, expect a decision in early 2019, according to Choose Washington New Mid-Market Airplane Council, an alliance of elected officials and business and union leaders. Across the state, a quarter-million jobs and $94 billion in business revenue are tied to aerospace.

The capacity of the passenger plane would fit somewhere between the largest 737, which is built in Renton, and the smallest 787, built in Everett — filling a niche left by the discontinuation of the Renton-built 757.

If the project stays in Washington, it could keep the local aerospace sector humming for years to come, experts say.

Tourism

Boeing also has plans for one of the county’s top tourist attractions. The company took over the Future of Flight Aviation Center at Paine Field late last year and plans a multimillion-dollar renovation. Last year, more than 600,000 tourists visited Boeing and Paine Field’s aviation attractions.

Countywide, tourism generated close to $2 billion in 2017, tourism director Spain said. Commercial air service is expected to boost the amount.

Another 1,000 hotel rooms are in the works for 2019 and 2020, Spain said.

The Hotel Indigo, a 142-room hotel, opens in June, port spokeswoman Lefeber said.

A rendering of Hotel Indigo at the Fisherman’s Harbor District in Everett. (Port of Everett)

A rendering of Hotel Indigo at the Fisherman’s Harbor District in Everett. (Port of Everett)

The boutique hotel is central to the port’s Waterfront Place redevelopment project, which will feature housing, restaurants, docks and more. The new Pacific Rim Plaza, a public space that celebrates the port’s history, will open this spring, Lefeber said. Construction of a 266-unit apartment complex at Fisherman’s Harbor District is expected to get under way in a few months.

Could the Boats Afloat Show, now held at Seattle’s South Lake Union, move north and become the county’s next big draw?

The port is in talks to host the event in 2020. “That — would be a huge boon,” Lefeber said.

Higher education

Everett Community College expects to welcome a new president in July and bid farewell to President David Beyer.

Beyer’s been at the helm for 13 years and plans to retire in June. “Having someone new here is good for the college and the community,” Beyer said. “I look at it as an opportunity.”

Edmonds Community College is in the process of seeking final approval for its second applied baccalaureate degree, in computer applications, said President Amit Singh.

Singh, EdCC’s new president, assumed the post last June.

WSU Everett, meanwhile, is on a mission to boost enrollment and expand offerings. WSU plans to add degree programs in criminal justice, computer engineering and applied mathematics over the next few years, Everett Chancellor Paul Pitre said.

Downtown

“All these things, incrementally, are making us better and stronger, so we’re ready to do something down the road,” said Skotdal, whose commercial real estate firm is renovating the former Opus Bank Building at 2828 Colby Ave. in Everett. The aim is to attract at least one major employer.

Commercial flight is just one aspect of what Snohomish County has to offer, he said.

“Getting this region to success is going to be a function of doing a lot of little things right.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: Janice Pods

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