GUEST OPINION | What the tanker contract means to our region

The Pentagon’s announcement on Feb. 24 that The Boeing Co. won the U.S. Air Force’s $35 billion contract to build 179 aerial refueling tankers provides a moment of triumph for workers and families in our community, Everett, Snohomish County and the region, and could not have come at a better time.

With challenging economic times giving us mixed signals of a recovery on the horizon, the tanker decision is great news for the highly-skilled employees living and working in cities like Marysville and Everett, and the thousands of suppliers here and across the nation who will build this much-needed tanker for our men and women in uniform.

The tanker contract is a catalyst for getting the local economy moving again through jobs creation, circulating more dollars into the economy, rebuilding and restoring consumer confidence, jumpstarting the housing market, and reinforcing this area’s competitive dominance in the aerospace industry as the best place to design, build and market commercial airplanes.

For employment centers like Marysville and Arlington with concentrations of aerospace, composites and electronics manufacturing, the tanker contract refuels our ambitions to work collaboratively toward attracting new manufacturing/light-industry, and it reminds us that now is the time to act on instituting more vocational education and technical skills training so that our own students — from high school on up — have the specialized knowledge and advanced learning to fill these new cutting-edge jobs.

Winning the NewGen Tanker contract secures what Boeing reports are 11,000 direct and indirect jobs in Washington state, with much of the work to be done in the state. That figure includes not only projected jobs at Boeing and at its in-state suppliers, but also at any kinds of businesses serving the aerospace workforce.

Jobs creation and a vibrant employment sector are obviously critical to future economic growth and reducing unemployment.

Seattle and the Puget Sound region are home to the vast majority of Boeing’s more than 75,000 workers, and each family-wage job at Boeing supports nearly three additional jobs. Aerospace workers earn an average of more than $62,500 a year. Most aerospace companies are relatively small businesses, many with five to 50 employees. And, about $5.4 billion is paid in annual wages to aerospace workers — 5 percent of all wages paid in the state.

That’s a lot of spending power, creating a ripple effect by feeding more dollars into our community and the businesses that serve these workers. Good paying secure jobs are the key to consumer confidence.

The tanker announcement comes at a time when many consumers in our community, region and across the county are still very anxious about their finances and job prospects in an unpredictable economy where unemployment still runs about 10 percent. Boeing’s tanker contract is estimated to grow or retain up to 50,000 jobs at a time when they are badly needed. Consumer attitudes can be fickle, based not just on what we see around our own workplace, neighborhood and family, but visible, broader trends as well. The tanker award is a real confidence booster.

The advent of new jobs associated with the tanker contract could help jumpstart the housing market. New jobs heighten the demand for housing, both from the existing employee base and people relocating to the area to work for Boeing. Long a bastion of affordable housing in Snohomish County, Boeing workers have made Marysville a prime choice to call home. A commuter study some years back estimated that 1 in 5 homeowners and renters in Marysville worked for Boeing.

Establishing a regional manufacturing, light industry job center for Marysville in the Smokey Point area is one of my key economic initiatives. This area already has concentrations of aerospace, composites and electronics, with the added potential for bio-med and green technology.

We have master planned the Smokey Point area with the potential to create 10,000 jobs for manufacturing and light industry employees in these and other industries. The master planning lays out the zoning, design standards, and infrastructure that make the area more investment-worthy to prospective ready-to-build employers.

I recently spoke at an event to raise funds for the proposed MERIT Center of Innovation at Marysville’s Arts & Tech High School campus, just a couple of days after the tanker news broke. Officials from the School District and Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County were there as well, among others. The Center being proposed speaks to a very important question about the future of aerospace here: with a shortage of aerospace engineers to fill new jobs and replace an aging workforce, where will our young people get the training they need to fill them?

The MERIT Center of Innovation’s manufacturing lab would be a first step in the “school-to-careers connection” to provide the education and technical skills training for these high-paying and rewarding careers of tomorrow. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) training they would receive in classes focused on precision manufacturing and robotics would prepare them for higher education options including the Washington Aerospace Training & Research Center at Edmonds Community College, Everett Community College, graduate and bachelor degree programs through at the University Center in Everett Station, or research institutions such as the University of Washington.

We would love nothing better than to see students who started their journey in the MERIT Center of Innovation fill those new and existing cutting-edge jobs on projects like the aerial refueling tanker, enjoy the work they’re doing, and have a short commute from their Marysville-area homes.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring can be reached at mayor@marysvillewa.gov.

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