Alliance pitches Kitsap County’s aerospace potential to Cantwell

Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal - Tim Kelly

When the region’s aerospace industry that has Boeing as its epicenter expands, Kitsap County hopes to get a piece of the action by promoting the resources it has to offer here on the west side of Puget Sound.

That’s the mission of the Kitsap Aerospace and Defense Alliance (KADA), which assembled a couple dozen boosters to tout the area’s potential to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell when she participated in a roundtable discussion April 13 at Bremerton National Airport.

The airport was an apt setting, since it’s on a 1,200-acre expanse of land that’s available for manufacturing development in the Port of Bremerton’s South Kitsap Industrial Area.

“We have the largest single piece of real estate for aviation development in the Puget Sound area,” port CEO Tim Thomson told Cantwell.

When Boeing was looking at possible new sites last year for building its 737 MAX outside its main Seattle-area plants, the port offered SKIA for consideration, but that longshot bid didn’t get off the ground.

It wasn’t the end of Kitsap’s efforts to position itself for a role in aerospace expansion, though.

“Our opportunity was to support the supply chain,” noted Thomson, who is co-chair of KADA along with John Powers, executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance.

The next KADA meeting May 22 will focus on making connections with companies already in the aerospace supply chain that are looking for potential expansion sites and strategic partners.

Alex Pietsch, who was recently appointed to lead the Governor’s Aerospace Office, will disuss his role as chair of the Washington Aerospace Council to lead state government efforts to coordinate with the industry and groups such as KADA. Pietsch was economic development director in Renton and worked closely with Boeing.

“This is where we start to transition from strategic relationship building, getting Kitsap County and SKIA identified” for their potential, Powers said. The next step will be connecting local businesses “with partners in the I-5 corridor.”

Along with the Bremerton Airport and SKIA’s available land, Kitsap County boasts convenient transportation links for shipping by road, rail or water, and a high level of educational attainment in the local workforce.

Powers noted at the roundtable that Kitsap has the second-highest number of engineers per capita in its workforce of any county in the state.

“I think we are really well-positioned to contribute to growth of the aerospace industry in the state,” Powers said.

What’s still needed, however, is more infrastructure to make the industrial sites more attractive to companies looking for a place to expand, and increased education and training programs to provide workers who have the skills those companies need.

“Vitrually every high-tech aerospace firm will tell you that they’re hungry for trained people,” said state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Tacoma, a leading advocate in the legislature for higher education.

Cantwell saw where some of that training will take place when she visited Olympic College in Bremerton after the KADA roundtable. She was on hand to mark the launch of a new aerospace training program made possible by a grant she helped secure last fall.

The program, which focuses on composites, currently enrolls nine students and is expected to grow to full enrollment — about 50 students — by next year.

Cantwell toured the new classrooms and met students enrolled in the composites training program.

The training program is made possible by a $20 million Department of Labor grant that was awarded to Air Washington to support the training of more than 2,600 workers statewide with the skills needed by Washington state’s 650 aerospace employers. Air Washington is a consortium of 11 community and technical colleges across the state, as well as several aerospace training organizations.

As a member of the consortium, Olympic College received $2.2 million of the grant to expand its aerospace training capacity and create the new composites program. The college works closely with the consortium and with Boeing and other industry partners to develop standardized training that meets employer needs.