Cantwell pushes for more aerospace workers in visit to Kitsap

—Washington state must grow its  aerospace workforce by 20,000 people in a decade if it has a prayer of staying  competitive.

That was the sobering message U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., delivered to  educators and others during a local stop Friday. The educators reminded her that  funding for more college instruction in aerospace could solve the shortfall.

Now, they say, student demand for such classes far surpasses capacity.

Meeting at Olympic College, Cantwell agreed.

"This is about how the United States retains one of the biggest workforce  sectors that it has," she said.

Cantwell is chairwoman of the Senate Aviation Operations, Safety and Security  Committee, and came to Bremerton to see progress on $2.2 million she secured  last fall for OC to boost aerospace training.

There's been some.

The funds already are being used to provide aerospace training for 374  students, according to OC President David Mitchell, in three areas — composites  manufacturing; manufacturing technology and precision machining; and  electronics.

Instruction ranges from two quarters to two years, and demand for classes is  very high, with the exception of a new composites court of study, which only has  nine students now.

In addition, OC in May will graduate its first class of students earning a  four-year mechanical-engineering degree from Washington State University at  Olympic College.

Higher education was spared further cuts by the now-done Legislature, and  earlier state funding has allowed WSU to expand its mechanical-engineering  program, according to Robert Olsen, a WSU dean of engineering. This coming fall,  WSU will start a four-year, mechanical-engineering degree program at Everett  Community College based on a model started two years ago at OC.

Educators agreed "composites" are the future. Geoff Wood, president of  Profile Composites, earlier said he had seven people who'd earned the new  composites-manufacturing certificate assembling lightweight medical items like  crutches. Wood, who also has operations in Canada, said he also is involved in  looking at using composites for unmanned aerial vehicles for nonmilitary uses  like search and rescue and mining surveillance.

Cantwell also met with local political and business leaders in the Kitsap  Aerospace and Defense Alliance, a new group trying to attract Boeing 737 MAX  suppliers to Kitsap.

They put a big push on her to send some supplier business their way.

"It's not just Renton and Everett," state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge  Island, told Cantwell.

Cantwell toured the Safe Boats International manufacturing facility Friday.  Safe Boats makes fast security boats.