Legislators discuss right-to-work, transportation, workforce and other aerospace issues at PNAA Roundtables in Bellevue

Three Washington State Legislators met with over 30 members of the aerospace community to discuss what the legislature is doing to keep Washington’s aerospace industry competitive, during a forum presented by Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance in Bellevue. Senator Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, and Representatives Larry Springer, D-Kirkland and Bruce Chandler, R-Granger answered questions from event moderator Bob Uptagrafft of Mukilteo-based Impact Washington as well as the aerospace audience. Legislators discussed issues including: Right to work Transportation STEM education Workers compensation reform UAVs Washington State’s budget for marketing aerospace resources

Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst from Issaquah-based Leeham Company, kicked off the forum with a tough question about the legislators’ views on Right-to-Work, a policy that would allow workers to opt in or out of union membership. Hamilton pointed out that Washington faces competition for aerospace jobs from southern states and noted that their right-to-work status made them attractive places for Boeing and Airbus to do business.

Rep. Springer stated that he opposed right to work laws and said, “I don’t believe where Boeing builds its planes is based on whether we’re a right to work state. Boeing will go wherever the workforce is trained and we better not lose sight of that.” Sen. Shin agreed.

Rep. Chandler said “Relationships with employees and employers is changing. If either side fails to realize that, they are doing a disservice to Washington.” However, he admitted that the legislature didn’t have a great record of refereeing employee-employer relationships.

During the two and a half hour event, the legislators noted that Washington’s aerospace presence is diverse. “There is an enormous sector beyond Boeing,” Springer said. “Everything we do in the aerospace industry can’t be Boeing-centric.” However, what is good for Boeing seems to be good for much of the aerospace community.

The legislators pointed to increased state funding for higher education, STEM, and workforce development programs plus funding for aerospace training programs that benefit everyone in the industry. Rep. Springer said passage of a tax exemption for refurbishing aircraft was an important achievement this year that benefits companies like Kirkland’s Greenpoint Technologies, Everett-based Aviation Technical Services and others.

The tax provision, proposed to legislators by PNAA members at the 2012 Legislative Aerospace Update, removed the required sales tax and allows these companies to be more competitive as a supplier in the global marketplace.

Rep. Springer said the bill regarding Unmanned Aerial Vehicle issues was one of the more interesting pieces of legislation that he had seen. The industry presents $1.3 billion dollar opportunity for the state, if Grant County can become one of six FAA test site locations.

Washington is home to a number of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturers, including Insitu, a Bingen, WA, company that went from three employees to over 700 in about 10 years. “UAVs provide a burgeoning opportunity for the State of Washington if we can address people’s concerns and fears,” Springer said. “We can’t let this opportunity slip by.”

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that the UAV Industry could add 100,000 jobs and $81 billion in economic impact nationally by 2025. According to the report, the establishment of FAA Test Sites will ultimately determine where many of these new jobs will flow. Innovate Washington’s proposal to locate a UAV Test Site at Grant County Airport near Moses Lake could see the addition of 6,746 jobs.

One issue that the legislature did not pass in the 2013 session was a multi-billion dollar transportation package that would invest in road and bridge infrastructure, public transit, rail capacity and rural improvements. These projects would improve traveler safety, fix roads, preserve bridges for years to come and reduce the cost of transporting products and services benefitting both the public and business. All three legislators doubted that Gov. Jay Inslee would call a special session to hammer out details.

PNAA Executive Director Melanie Jordan expressed disappointment, “In order to be globally competitive, we need to be able to move our goods and services throughout the state. A transportation bill is essential,” she said.

As Boeing cuts jobs in Washington and buys land in the south, Aerospace Executives like JC Hall of Esterline Hytek Finishes wondered what the legislature is doing to help the state promote its aerospace resources outside of Washington and the United States. “I have seen the Department of Commerce try to do tremendous things with no budget. How do we get a better presence to market the capabilities of the state? We’ve got to get serious about marketing our resources,” Hall said.

The legislators agreed that this was an important issue to work on.