Inland Northwest aerospace manufacturers and industry observers expect hiring within the sector to slow in the next few years.
Doug Tweedy, Spokane-based regional economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department, says hiring in aerospace is expected to grow less than 1 percent annually from this year through 2018. That compares to just more than 1 percent annual growth in the last few years.
“After the kind of rebound we’ve seen in aerospace, it’s not uncommon to see a leveling out and the sector slowing down to catch its breath,” Tweedy says.
In 2010, there were 14,670 jobs in aerospace—and manufacturing jobs related to aerospace—in Spokane County. By the end of last year, there were 15,790 jobs in aerospace and aerospace related manufacturing, says the Spokane Workforce Development Council’s (WDC) website.
While there may be a cooling on hiring, the aerospace industry is still considered to be a demand industry here.
Mike Marzetta, president of Liberty Lake-based manufacturer Altek Inc., says the company expects to add more employees before the end of this year and into next year. Altek, located at 22819 E. Appleway, has approximately 185 employees, says Marzetta.
“It’s hard to say by how much,” says Marzetta of future hiring. “Right now, it seems like demand continues to go up. And while not every opportunity that presents itself is one that we pursue, there certainly are many that we do.”
Manufacturing related to the aerospace industry in Spokane County was hit hard during the Great Recession, says the WDC’s website.
During the second quarter of 2009, Spokane County lost nearly 20 percent of its jobs in aerospace and aerospace-related fields.
“The sector has rebounded with steady year-over-year job growth in the region, in part led by the aerospace manufacturing subsector, which now has more than 120 manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and related organizations located throughout the Spokane region,” the WDC website says.
Tweedy says aerospace has provided a strong boost to the area’s overall manufacturing industry.
“Our growth rate is hinged on the aerospace supply chain,” Tweedy says.
Spokane’s regional workforce development area, which includes Spokane County, has a total of seven companies that are “directly related” to the aerospace industry, Tweedy says. Another 113 companies are “indirectly related” to aerospace, meaning the industry makes up only a part of their overall business, he says..
The roughly 120 companies in the aerospace field here reported a total annual payroll of $310 million in 2015, Tweedy says.
The workforce development council says the average wage for a worker in the aerospace sector here in 2015 was just about $51,000. Aerospace and manufacturing made up 7 percent of all jobs in Spokane County last year.
“The aerospace industry is a significant part of our regional economy,” Tweedy says.
He says the companies agreed to release their payroll and tax information to the Washington State Employment Security Department on the condition they remain confidential.
Rick Taylor, vice president of sales at Altek, says the company anticipates a continued “uptick” in aerospace orders.
“We’re still seeing strong growth in aerospace and medical,” Taylor says.
He says he and company officials are optimistic about Altek’s short- and long-term future.
“We feel like there will be many new opportunities coming down the pipe,” says Taylor, who has worked in manufacturing for 43 years and worked at Altek for 32 years.
He says now is a lucrative time for the aerospace industry, and more importantly, believes the industry has learned from mistakes made before the Great Recession.
“I’d say 2007 was our heyday. We were all fat, dumb, and happy, and we got a little complacent,” Taylor says. “But then everything came crashing down. Even in the medical field. It was the first time in my 32 years I saw the medical industry cut back.”
He adds, “Any company that survived that time is operating smarter than they did then. We’d be naïve to put ourselves in that same position again. I’m seeing aerospace and manufacturing companies operating leaner and more efficient than ever before. It was a very valuable lesson we learned.”
Mary Stanton, an employment and training specialist with Spokane-based Career Path Services, thinks local and national politics may be contributing to a slowdown in hiring.
“I think somewhat due in part to the political climate, employers are holding off in hiring in the aerospace industry,” Stanton says.
Career Path Services is a nonprofit employment agency. Stanton was previously the nonprofit’s aerospace industry “navigator” and served as a liaison between the local aerospace industry, Spokane Community College and WorkSource Spokane.
“It’s not that they (employers) aren’t hiring at all. They just aren’t hiring a ton,” she says. “Right now we’re seeing that employers are more apt to train their existing employees for new jobs that become available.”
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