Economy depends on labor

Vital economies manufacture things.

In Snohomish County, manufacturing ranges from airplanes to solar panels. The rise of an information economy and high-tech sector complements that dynamic, but not to the point of exclusion.

Digital is good, but tangible products remain the lifeblood of the most trade-dependent state in the nation.

Now, the Northwest is getting plaudits for what it does best.

Last week, the central Puget Sound area won a “Manufacturing Communities” designation from the U.S. Department of Commerce, one of only 12 regions in the country to receive the honor. The proposal, which singles out the aerospace sector, was developed by the Puget Sound Regional Council. Other key partners included Economic Alliance Snohomish County, organized labor and members of Washington’s congressional delegation.

The designation means that over the next two years, the Puget Sound region will be eligible to tap $1.3 billion in federal grants as well as qualify for strategic assistance.

“A century of aerospace leadership has taught this region that working together is the best path forward,” said Pierce County Executive and PSRC president Pat McCarthy. “This will help our region become even more resilient as international competition grows fiercer every day, and will help keep the best manufacturing jobs in America.”

One outcome, in additional to federal help, is encouraging investment. And that has the added benefit of creating and sustaining jobs.

Rep. Rick Larsen, who wrote a letter in support of the PSRC application, said in a statement, “Our aerospace firms support more than 132,000 jobs and are a critical economic driver for the region. These firms compete globally and are well-positioned to use this opportunity to spur more job growth and economic activity.”

Another essential component of a vital economy is a well-educated workforce earning a living wage. The collaborative aspect of the PSRC application underlines the need to work in common cause. This almost always is the case concerning K-12 and higher-ed funding as well as public infrastructure and transportation projects. But benefits and wages remain the great divide.

As business leaders think strategically about the Puget Sound area, the labor force they want to attract needs to be the centerpiece.

A skilled workforce, good schools, a thriving local culture: These are all interdependent parts.

The hangover of the Boeing special session and the Machinists’ vote will fester for some time.

The takeaway: Manufacturers ignore the Northwest’s one-of-a-kind labor force at their own peril.

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