Opinion

The economic risk of losing aerospace | Andy Hobbs

The Federal Way Chamber’s 2013 Economic Forecast Breakfast highlighted the value of aerospace and risk.

Without those two things, we’re doomed.

Led by Boeing, the region’s aerospace industry penetrates several layers of the economy. Today, the company builds airplanes at a record pace, thanks to flourishing international markets in Asia.

This aerospace boom means more than money. It means jobs and security, and it raises the region’s quality of life. It brings purpose to the economy. We’re all in this together, so the saying goes, and the prosperity of Puget Sound comes from the sum of its parts. Each city represents a link in the proverbial chain. When cities reduce their weaknesses, the chain grows stronger.

For a few more months, Federal Way will hold a piece of the aerospace pie.

Last year, Orion Industries announced plans to leave Federal Way and build a new facility in Auburn. Orion is a non-profit company that manufactures parts for Boeing airplanes. With 265 employees and 20 percent growth every year, Orion also specializes in job training, job creation and job placement.

Even in a new location, Orion will still benefit the South King County area while riding the wave of Boeing’s boom. However, Orion is a rare business that leaves the community better than when it arrived. Orion fostered a cycle of success within the city’s job and labor pool. The company isn’t one of these franchise restaurants that appease corporate shareholders on the East Coast. With established roots in Federal Way, Orion wanted to remain in the city it called home.

City leaders point to the impending arrival of DaVita as one way to offset the loss of jobs from Orion. In April, the DaVita kidney dialysis company will open a Federal Way office with an estimated 350 employees. That is good news. The more white collar jobs, the better, right?

The difference is that DaVita is an economic participant, while Orion is a local economic shaper, plugged directly into the pulse.

In the end, Orion failed to fit into the “grand plan” of retail-residential development in Federal Way’s downtown. That’s a shame, considering Orion’s priceless contribution to the city’s workforce.

This brings us back to the Jan. 31 economic forecast breakfast and the aerospace industry’s value. King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer told business leaders and elected officials that “our job is to create jobs.”

Pursue a vision, he said. Be willing to take a risk.

Webster’s dictionary defines risk as “possibility of loss or injury.” For better or worse, Federal Way tends to avoid substantial risk. A notable recent exception is the Community Center. Despite bumpy financial footing, the center is a social and recreational hub for all ages that doubles as an emergency shelter in severe weather. The center represents a risk that adds to Federal Way’s quality of life.

The departure of Orion signals another risk related to the city’s quality of life, namely the risk of letting the company become the one that got away.

 

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