OLYMPIA — An Everett aerospace executive and former Boeing engineer began work this week as Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief adviser on aerospace policy.
John Thornquist started Tuesday as director of the Office of Aerospace, where he will pilot Washington’s efforts to bolster an industry that orbits around the Boeing Co., the state’s largest employer.
Thornquist, a Seattle resident, had been working as chief executive officer of Carbon Aerospace, an engineering and manufacturing consulting firm in Everett that he and three others founded.
That was the second Everett- based engineering services firm he helped launch. The first, Global Aerosystems, grew and became Kaman Engineering Services after its sale to the Kaman Corp. Boeing honored the start-up firm with a supplier of the year award in 2012.
“With his strong industry background, John will be a highly effective liaison between business and government as we work together to keep our state in its preeminent position as a global leader in aerospace innovation and manufacturing,” Inslee said in a statement.
Thornquist said Thursday his aim is “expanding the aerospace footprint” in the state. He wants to ensure existing companies have access to resources to become stronger and assure a skilled and educated workforce is available to attract new businesses to the state. Washington also must continue to have a strong public education system, he said.
“If (leaders of companies) feel they can’t come here and educate their children, they won’t come here,” he said.
He arrives as Inslee is considering the need to rewrite terms of the state’s generous tax breaks to Boeing in response to the company’s latest plan to shrink its workforce in Washington.
In November 2013, the state extended the expiration date on a suite of incentives to the aerospace industry from 2024 to 2040. That extension — along with significant concessions from Machinists — helped convince Boeing to launch its 777X program in Everett. It could result in billions of dollars in tax savings for the company in the next two decades.
But since lawmakers passed and Inslee signed that deal, Boeing has cut its workforce in Washington by roughly 5,000 jobs. The company said it expects to pare another 4,000 jobs through buyouts and retirements in the next few months.
That’s pushed Inslee toward support of tying the tax breaks to the size of the company’s workforce — an approach sought by aerospace Machinists and engineers, and several Democratic lawmakers.
“We still are going to seek clarity on these latest notices from the company,” Inslee said March 31. “But all of this is very concerning to us.”
The governor said he is interested in exploring “a stronger incentive for Boeing where we might have a total employment requirement to have access to these tax breaks. The concern is great enough in our state that we would entertain consideration of that type of thing so we are going to have some discussions to find out the future course of this company.”
Thornquist said he has “no heartburn” about the tax breaks but knows he’ll be asked to provide input to the governor and lawmakers on how any revisions could affect the industry.
“So far the legislation that they have passed in the past was good for aerospace in the state. It’s kept our state strong,” he said. “In the end, it will be the Legislature that determines the laws.”
Thornquist’s aerospace career spans 28 years but his ties to the industry span his entire life as his parents both worked for Boeing. His mom was a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Worker and his father belonged to the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. Thornquist, who worked as a structures engineer at Boeing from 1988-96, also belonged to SPEEA.
John Monroe, chief operations officer of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, said Thornquist’s experience makes him well-suited for the job.
Monroe recounted in an email that the two first met in 2006 when Thornquist and others were launching Global Aerosystems. Since then, they’ve worked on education initiatives with the Everett School District and the economic alliance.
“Because of his working knowledge of small, medium and large sized aerospace businesses, education, and the legislative process, John is perfectly suited to be the state’s new aerospace ambassador,” Monroe said. “He is also a great communicator and knows when it is time to listen and time to speak.”
The Boeing Co. also had nice things to say.
“John has deep experience in the aerospace sector and a proven track record of successful leadership that will be instrumental in keeping the state a global leader.” spokesman Paul Bergman wrote in an email Wednesday.
Thornquist will earn $120,000 a year and also serve as secretary of the Washington Aerospace Partnership, a pro-industry consortium of business groups, local governments and colleges. Of his salary, $50,000 will be paid by the partnership, whose members include Everett, Marysville and Economic Alliance of Snohomish County.
He succeeds Alex Pietsch, who wrote the state’s strategy for encouraging Washington’s aerospace industry. Pietsch left in July to join Washington State University as a liaison between the university and industry.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.
This story has been modified to correct the title of John Monroe, chief operations officer of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County.
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