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Local aerospace still strong, but sector must not rest on its laurels

An employee works on the engine of a Boeing Co. 737 airplane last summer at the company's assembly facility in Renton, Wash.
Associated Press
An employee works on the engine of a Boeing Co. 737 airplane last summer at the company's assembly facility in Renton, Wash.

Washington State inspires envy all over the globe for the large and growing number of high-wage jobs located in the Puget Sound region.

At the heart of our economy is Boeing and the aerospace sector that has grown up around it. Government leaders, unions and policy experts have been patting themselves on the back lately for keeping and growing these jobs.

They also know the competition never rests.

The Puget Sound region is facing enormous demand for workers on aircraft and aerospace parts made in Everett, Renton and other locations all over the state. More than 20,000 skilled employees will be needed here over the next decade, officials say.

King County recently announced its workforce development council is receiving a big boost. Speaking at the annual economic forecast of Enterprise Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine congratulated the council's CEO,Marléna Sessions, on the win of $800,000 in new federal grant money.

“…for aerospace-related training at community and technical colleges, here in King County, this coming spring quarter,” Constantine told a cheering audience.   

But the Executive says they also know that any competitive edge the region seems to be enjoying right now could soon become irrelevant. For starters, the average age of Boeing machinists and engineers “has reached it’s demographic peak,” meaning 50 years old. The looming retirements of those workers pose all kinds of challenges.

There’s also pressure from other aspiring regions, who want aerospace work as well, "not just from legacy manufacturers in Europe, but from new emerging manufacturers in Russia, China, Brazil, Canada and elsewhere,” Constantine said. 

And from other states too. Texas, Kansas and South Carolina often come up as threats to local efforts.

Along with training up local workers, there’s astate aerospace Alliance trying to remove governmental red tape and other obstacles that could impede the local aerospace sector.

They’ll have a big lobbying day in Olympia next month.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to