Some economic-development leaders and aviation-parts manufacturers here believe Spokane could become the Motor City of aerospace-parts production if it focuses on growing that already strong manufacturer niche.
Moreover, theyre forming a group to do that.
What Ive been talking a lot about is, why couldnt we have the equivalent of a Motor City here in Spokane? says Mary Lou Thomas, president of Spokane airplane parts maker Triumph Composites Systems Inc. On a smaller scale, theres no reason Spokane couldnt be an aerospace city.
To help develop that manufacturing sector, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council has started to bring together aviation manufacturers here to form what it calls an aviation cluster.
Theresa Sanders, executive vice president of the EDC, says that a cluster, in economic-development terms, is a group of like businesses that work together to identify new opportunities and ways to improve their businesses. Also, such a cluster can help manufacturers that arent currently working in the aerospace industry to crack into that market.
For example, she says, in early discussions with aerospace manufacturers here, some have said it would be helpful to have in the Spokane area a certified aerospace plater, which applies special coatings to materials used in airplane parts. She says a plating company here could become certified to offer such services or a new company could be recruited to the area to offer such services.
In addition to Triumph, Spokane-area companies that make at least some parts for airplanes here include Kaiser Aluminum Corp., B.F. Goodrich Corp., XN Avionics, Rocket Engineering Corp., Isothermal Systems Research, and Honeywell Electronic Materials, among others.
In the past, the EDC has helped form similar clusters for the health-care industry and for manufacturers involved in lean manufacturing.
Thomas says that Triumph, which makes floor panels, ducting, and other interior parts, would use an aviation cluster to try to create a local supply base. Currently, she says, the company brings in all of its supplies and raw materials from elsewhere, and having more such suppliers in the Spokane area could help attract additional manufacturers as well.
If we establish a strong supply base, it will draw more companies to this area, Thomas says. Its easier for them to plug into that than to try to create that network.
Sanders says the EDC is trying to make sure that aerospace manufacturers and related companies are aware of opportunities to make parts for Boeing Corp.s 787 Dreamliner, on which assembly is scheduled to begin next year.
Boeing has a well-established supply chain, but some opportunities might exist for secondary suppliers to the companies that make parts for the big aircraft, Sanders says.
Also, the EDC is working with the Washington state Department of Revenue to put together a workshop here about the states aerospace tax package, which provides tax incentives for companies involved in aerospace manufacturing.
Theres been very low utilization (of the incentives) in Spokane County so far, Sanders says.
Sanders also says that the aerospace industry, in general, is on the upswing. In Spokane specifically, she says, the aerospace manufacturing market appears to have grown, in terms of jobs and revenue, in recent years.
The significance of that market, however, isnt known just yet. The EDC is studying the aviation-manufacturing market here to determine how many companies are involved and how many people they employ.
The organization hasnt finished that research yet, but did size up the local industry somewhat earlier this year when preparing marketing materials to be distributed at the Paris Air Show, a huge aerospace industry trade show held every other year in Paris.
In its promotions boosting the Spokane market, the EDC listed 33 concerns involved in aviation, roughly half of which are manufacturers.
The EDC also included a picture of a large passenger airplane that showed the different parts of a plane, with arrows drawn to the names of 15 companies here that make airplane parts.
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