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How One Aerospace Supplier Navigates The Intense Rivalry Between Boeing And Airbus

Ashley Gross
Electroimpact Chief of Staff Ben Hempstead in the company's Mukilteo factory

When you think of business rivalries, some epic ones might spring to mind: Coke vs. Pepsi, McDonald's vs. Burger King, Marvel vs. DC.

Here in Washington state, we have front-row seats to one of those legendary business rivalries: Boeing vs. Airbus. And what's interesting here is that an entire aerospace supply chain that grew up servicing one major customer, Boeing, has now diversified into selling to its European arch-nemesis.

To understand the delicate logistics involved in supplying to two bitter rivals, KPLU paid a visit to Mukilteo-based Electroimpact, which makes giant tools and robotic machines used in putting airplane parts together.

The company has been in the news lately because its president, Peter Zieve, confirmed to the Puget Sound Business Journal that he sent anonymous postcards to people in Mukilteo alerting them about plans to build a mosque there. That move drew a lot of criticism, and he later said he would apologize. Electroimpact's chief of staff, Ben Hempstead, said the company had nothing to do with the postcards.

KPLU visited Electroimpact's factory floor to speak with Hempstead to find out how the company protects its customers' intellectual property and prevents tightly guarded trade secrets from being stolen. For example, they maintain separate databases for different projects and even top-ranking executives like him don't have access to everything. 

Hempstead also said Electroimpact trains employees on how to handle sensitive information right when they get hired. Consequences for deliberately or even inadvertently sharing information can be severe. If someone violates federal export controls on defense-related technology, he or she can face criminal charges and even jail time, Hempstead said.

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