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Gov. Gregoire talks worker training for the aerospace industry

Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke about the importance of Boeing and the aerospace community to Washington Thursday at the sixth annual Governor
Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke about the importance of Boeing and the aerospace community to Washington Thursday at the sixth annual Governor's Aerospace Summit at ShoWare Center.
— image credit: CHARLES CORTES, Renton Reporter

Gov. Chris Gregoire pumped up the state's aerospace industry Thursday, promising to tailor worker training to its needs and asking for its help to maintain Washington as the "center of aerospace" in the world.

There are plenty of aerospace companies, states and even whole countries that would like to strip Washington of that title, she said.

One prize for which the state is competing is the location of a new plant to build the 737 MAX, a variant of the world's best-selling airplane that's built in Renton. Boeing is expected to make that decision in about six months.

The Renton plant is in the running, but as Gregoire said, "We take nothing for granted." Boeing got the contract to build new refueling planes for the U.S. Air Force in part because of a strong community partnership that lobbied for a Washington-built plane, she said.

A new 737 variant will feature a highly fuel-efficient engine that requires some redesign of the airplane.

The effort to keep the 737 plant in Washington – Project Pegasus – is already under way. It will include a "candid assessment" of the strengths and weaknesses of the state's aerospace industry.

"Where are we competitive? Where are we not?" are the questions the assessment will answer, Gregoire said.

One of the top priorities is workforce training, she said. "That workforce is so important to the aerospace industry," she said.

Gregoire gave the keynote address Thursday to the Sixth Annual Governor's Aerospace Summit, presented by the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington at ShoWare Center in Kent.

The Boeing Co. was named "Aerospace Company of the Year" at the summit.

Gregoire's speech came just hours after the release of the latest state revenue forecast, which shows a $1.4 billion revenue shortfall. Gregoire said it wasn't the best day of her life.

"It ain't going to be easy, but we will get through this," she said.

Gregoire was a little late for her speech at the summit, attended by owners, employees and other representatives of some of the roughly 650 aerospace companies in the state. The City of Renton was a summit sponsor.

Gregoire repeatedly returned to worker training as a key factor in keeping the state's aerospace industry competitive. Washington is home to about 84,000 aerospace workers.

"No one can compete with Washington state's talented workforce," she said.

The state is already coordinating between the aerospace industry and the state's colleges and universities to ensure that the skills being taught are the ones the companies need in their workers, she said.

She also pointed out that about 30 percent of the Machinists in the state, about 7,500 workers, are eligible to retire. "We need to be on the top of our game to fill those jobs," she said.

Gregoire also spoke about some of the legislative accomplishments that have helped Washington's business community. Last year, the Legislature approved the first-ever reform of the state's unemployment compensation system, a priority for The Boeing Co. That reform saved businesses about $300 million, she said.

In the upcoming legislative session, Gregoire will propose a simplification  of the state's business and occupation tax, which will help businesses who operate in a number of government jurisdictions. Cities have already expressed concern about the idea, she said, because local governments also rely on the B and O tax for revenue.

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