Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: Manufacturing businesses vital to Washington's economic health

Middle-class spark …

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When the manufacturing sector is strong, communities become stronger, and families are lifted into the middle class.

Employees in the manufacturing sector earn an average annual wage of more than $72,000, or roughly 30 percent more than the average wage in other sectors, according to data from the state Employment Security Department. 

Many of those careers require a minimum of a high school degree or a certificate or a two-year degree, making it attractive to those who want to work with their hands and be part of building second-to-none, Washington-made goods and products.

We met many of those employees and their employers during the Association of Washington Business second-annual Manufacturing Week bus tour Oct. 4-12. 

Staff, elected officials, local business representatives, regional WorkSource employees, and others joined us at nearly 50 stops throughout the 1,700-mile journey to visit manufacturers of all sizes in small towns throughout Washington, such as Valley and Bingen, and urban centers, such as Seattle and Spokane.

The goal of Manufacturing Week is to highlight the importance of the sector to communities across the state—the good-paying, modern careers and the diversity of products—and celebrate the contributions the sector makes in every county in Washington state.

Our state’s job base and economy always have been grounded in hands-on careers.

Boeing Co. put Washington state on the manufacturing map more than 100 years ago and continues to illustrate why our state is a revered hub of innovation around the world. 

As the state’s largest private-sector employer, Boeing continues to be an integral part of the state’s economic health, supporting suppliers and improving the economies in communities across the state.

Innovation takes place at companies of all sizes, as we saw during our bus tour, which stopped at Boeing’s Everett production facilities and many of the state’s smallest manufacturers. In fact, three quarters of manufacturing firms have less than 20 employees and gross annual revenue of less than $1 million.

One stop was at Central Bean Co., in Quincy. The company employs 21 people and processes 20 varieties of beans grown in the Columbia Basin. The company has a long history with the domestic market, but just last year began to export product to Australia.

AWB’s Manufacturing Week bus tour does more than just visit manufacturers, meet their employees, and see the products they make. 

The tour puts names and faces to the sector, illustrating to state and local officials why supporting the manufacturing sector is vital to every community—urban, rural, and small towns in between—and that when the sector is healthy, families thrive.

With all of this in mind, the next time you pick up a box of Chukar Cherries, drive by a healthy crop of wheat, board an Boeing airplane, or see one flying overhead, we hope you take pride in knowing that Washington builds, crafts, and dreams up great things. 

Kris Johnson is the president of the Association of Washington Business, the Olympia, Wash.-based organization that serves as the state’s chamber of commerce and designated manufacturing association.

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