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Report on aerospace industry shows climbing wages, job numbers since state tax breaks

Debbie Box, a plastic bench mechanic, places nylon bagging material over composite angles before curing at the Boeing Frederickson Plant in Pierce County.
Debbie Box, a plastic bench mechanic, places nylon bagging material over composite angles before curing at the Boeing Frederickson Plant in Pierce County. File, 2004

Aerospace and related jobs continue to grow in Washington and Pierce County, a newly released report shows.

The Washington Aerospace Partnership released the report Thursday, which shows climbing wages and a growing industry across the state.

Bruce Kendall, CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, said the report is critical for recruiting new aerospace-related companies to Pierce County.

Much like the software industry, aerospace companies “love to cluster together,” Kendall said.

“What they want to do is tap into that (existing) workforce. They don’t mind at all competing for employees that might be working somewhere else,” Kendall said. “You want to go where the talent is.”

Pierce County has 136 production suppliers and other aerospace vendors for Boeing, behind King and Snohomish counties, according to the report. The firms here have developed a particular expertise in composites manufacturing, among them Toray Composites and General Plastics.

Overall, aerospace firms in Pierce County employed 2,610 workers in 2015, according to the report, the third-largest concentration of aerospace jobs by county in the state. Related industries, such as carbon-fiber manufacturers, account for another 490 jobs in Pierce County.

Companies considering Washington are aware of the concentration of aerospace-related firms, but the report gives concrete numbers, Kendall said. The figures cited in the report come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and state sources.

The Washington Aerospace Partnership’s last report came out in 2013. Since then, the state Legislature enacted the largest state tax break in American history meant to secure Boeing’s 777x jetliner. Other companies have also taken advantage of the tax breaks.

Altogether, firms around the state claimed aerospace-related breaks, exemptions and incentives worth more than $580 million from 2013 to 2015, according to data from the state Department of Revenue.

Last year, aerospace workers alone earned $10 billion in wages for area families. Workers in supporting fields added another $2.9 billion in wages to the local economy, the report states. Kendall said those workers spend money where they work and live, mostly in Western Washington.

Aerospace industry jobs are coveted by economic development professionals because of their high wages. Statewide, workers earn an average of $54,000 per year, the report states.

But aerospace workers earn almost double that, with an average of $107,000 per year. Aerospace suppliers and other related industry workers earn an average of $69,200 per year, the report states.

Statewide, aerospace and related industry jobs climbed by 3,600 workers from 2012 to 2015, to a total of 136,100 jobs, the report states.

The tax breaks also have acted as an incentive for more businesses to locate here, Kendall said. Japan-headquartered Mitsui-Soko (U.S.A) recently broke ground on a 200,000-square-foot warehouse, built specifically for aerospace needs, in Frederickson, Kendall said.

When completed, the Mitsui-Soko will employ 30 people, according to a news release from the EDB.

“We have seen since the 777x decision a big uptick in interest in locating or at least kicking tires in Pierce County,” Kendall said. He said two aerospace suppliers are working with the EDB to decide whether to locate here — but they’re also looking elsewhere.

The tax breaks, Kendall said, “Gives the market confidence that there’s going to be a lot of work here for a long time.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

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