November 8, 2023

Competitiveness study plots state’s path in global aerospace race

Washington state needs to act fast to strengthen its aerospace manufacturing sector and retain its position as a leading aerospace hub, according to a new competitiveness report.

“Washington State’s Path in the Global Aerospace Race” was presented at the Aerospace Futures Alliance Summit in September. The report includes recommendations from the Aviation and Aerospace Advisory Committee (AAAC), which was created by the Washington State Legislature in 2022 to advise the Departments of Commerce and Transportation on matters related to aviation and aerospace in the state. The AAAC comprised more than 60 representatives from the public and private sectors, including legislators, ports and airports, aerospace supply chain companies, educators, labor representatives, military personnel and other stakeholders.

“The committee’s goal was to benchmark where Washington is versus other states, where the future is and where we should be investing,” said Mark Norton, Principal of Norton Strategic Consulting and Chair of the Northwest I-90 Manufacturing Alliance. Norton and his team facilitated the committee process and prepared the AAAC’s final report and executive summary.

Substantial investment needed

Over 18 months, 6 AAAC subcommittees studied the following priority areas that represent overarching areas of concern and focus:

  1. Airport Services, Infrastructure and Testing
  2. Commercial/Military Manufacturing
  3. Space and Satellites
  4. Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS)
  5. Emerging Segments (electric, hydrogen, hybrid, Advanced Air Mobility)
  6. Workforce and Education

The AAAC concluded that Washington must invest substantially to maintain its competitive advantage by driving innovation, marketing the strengths of its aerospace sector, and equipping the current and future workforce for the next generation of aircraft.

While the final report delves deep into how that should happen, here are three recommendations that came out of the process:

  • Invest in emerging technologies, including electric and hydrogen power, AI and automation – both on and in the manufacturing of aircraft.

As a side note, the state recently learned that it would have the opportunity to help unlock the full potential of hydrogen in the region. The U.S. Department of Energy selected the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association’s PNWH2 Hub for award negotiations as one a Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub . The hub will leverage the abundant clean power and innovative technology companies in the Pacific Northwest to accelerate the transition to clean hydrogen production and use. You can more on the Washington State Department of Commerce website.

  • Return to alternate career pathways in the trades. With more people opting out of college, pathways beyond four-year degrees are critical to ensure high school graduates are workforce ready out of high school.
  • Support aerospace and continue to diversify. Boeing is still the bedrock of aerospace in the state, employing more than 60,000 Washingtonians, including the addition of 4,400 net jobs last year. And Boeing’s 600+ suppliers in the state employ thousands more. Amazon is the only business that employs more people in the state. Long term, diversification is a must. The state should invest in other areas, including green propulsion, drone technology, and space and satellites.

Down in the rankings

The Puget Sound region has long been considered the premiere location for aerospace manufacturing. In recent rankings, however, the region fell from first to seventh place.

Emerging clusters in the Southeast, Texas and Midwest offer enticing advantages, including lower taxes, substantial business recruitment incentives, right-to-work laws, and a lower cost of living. The medium home prices in Texas, for example, are around half of those in Washington. By addressing factors that have propelled the rise of other clusters while leveraging Washington’s unique strengths, the state can reclaim its top spot in global aviation and aerospace and look toward a prosperous future.

As the report summarizes, “Washington’s aviation and aerospace industry has a promising future, but it must adapt to the evolving landscape and overcome current challenges.”

The key to success is a robust innovation network that will strengthen the state’s aviation and aerospace industry and enhance its competitiveness to unlock new market opportunities.

What’s next

The competitiveness study is now in the hands of the Washington State Legislature. While elected officials ponder the recommendations, the report is already proving to be a valuable tool.

“A lot of economic development organizations across the state, including the EDB, are looking at this to inform their policy,” Norton said.


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