POISED FOR TAKEOFF Inland Northwest Aerospace Companies Are Prepping for Worldwide Industry Growth

By Maben, Scott | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), October 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

POISED FOR TAKEOFF Inland Northwest Aerospace Companies Are Prepping for Worldwide Industry Growth


Maben, Scott, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


A growing cluster of aerospace companies in the Inland Northwest is reaping the rewards of a global surge in aircraft production.

It's also setting the table for a main course that could nourish the economy much like health care and education do today.

The ultimate prize would be an assembly or manufacturing plant employing a thousand or more workers. It's not a pipe dream when one considers the foundation in place in Spokane County and North Idaho, economic development leaders say.

"I think we are on the precipice of a real advance," said Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated.

In Spokane County alone, more than 80 direct and indirect suppliers for the aerospace industry employ more than 8,000 people, GSI officials estimate.

North Idaho is building an aerospace cluster of its own, with three dozen companies employing about 650, state officials say. And North Idaho College recently received a $2.97million federal grant to train people for aerospace work.

The region can tout an attractive workforce size, lower labor costs than the Puget Sound area, new investment in education and training, large chunks of land ready for development, airports eager to court new business, and growing collaboration between established companies.

"It just feels like we're going to take the next step and we're going to be able to grow this industry increasingly," Hadley said.

Boeing and other equipment manufacturers are embarking on steep growth curves, and suppliers are at or over capacity, said Mike Marzetta, co-chairman of the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium and president of ALTEK, which fashions structural parts and power supplies in Liberty Lake.

"We're working to position the Inland Northwest to be the recipient of that growth," Marzetta said.

ROOM FOR MORE

The area already is home to a diverse array of small and midsize businesses involved in the production and service of aircraft, with more companies landing every few years.

Some have set up shop on the edges of Spokane International Airport and the Coeur d'Alene Airport, taking advantage of runway access. Others are spread around the region, from Liberty Lake to Bonner County.

Associated Painters Inc. moved into a 41,000-square-foot hangar at the Spokane airport two years ago. The company paints and stripes planes in the $5 million facility.

Quest Aircraft Co. in Sandpoint builds the KODIAK 10-seat single- engine turboprop airplane. And nearby in Ponderay, Cygnus Inc. manufactures 180,000 sheet metal parts and assemblies annually for commercial and military planes and missile programs.

Near the Spokane airport, Triumph Composite Systems makes commercial and cargo floor panels, environmental control systems and ducting, while United Technologies manufactures carbon brakes.

Kaiser Aluminum Corp., which employs more than 800 at its Trentwood rolling mill, is a major supplier of aluminum for aircraft makers.

There's room for more, including large-scale operations, Hadley said.

"We're in communication with three aerospace companies who are in one manner or another of seriousness toward this being a site for expansion," Hadley said. "So that is why I have confidence."

The regional aerospace consortium is working to get ready for the growth. That includes identifying three industrial sites of 200 acres or greater that would accommodate a large manufacturing or assembly plant. Officials also are exploring transportation needs, such as rail spurs and freeway interchanges, to serve new aerospace companies.

"If an aerospace company makes a decision, we can get a building permit in 30 to 45 days. And that's an attraction," Hadley said.

Titan Spring Inc., which makes springs and wire for the aerospace industry, moved to Hayden from North Hollywood, Calif., five years ago.

"The whole area has a lot of enthusiasm for aerospace, and Idaho especially is an extremely business-friendly place to be," said company President Jim Glenn, who also is president of the Idaho Aerospace Alliance representing the industry. …

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