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Beyond Boeing: Industries powering the state economy


Finger-pointing and hand-wringing abound as Boeing shops for a new assembly plant outside Washington while legacy Northwest industries and newer job sectors are stepping up to help grow the state economy.

Nobody is saying it wouldn’t hurt to lose the Boeing work, but Washington has several other powerhouse industry sectors. A new study released Wednesday, values the maritime industry at $30 billion in direct and indirect revenues last year.

The Washington State Maritime Cluster Economic Impact Study pegs the number of state jobs in maritime at more than 148,000. There’s shipbuilding, boatbuilding, passenger transportation, maritime logistics and support services and fishing.

Of course, a big part of that industry is linked to trade and the ports.

“Depending on who you ask, anywhere from one-in-three to 40 percent of our jobs are dependent on trade and the ports, as a system,” said Steve Sewell, who promotes maritime for the Washington State Department of Commerce. “The fishing industry is also another one that’s doing extremely well, over the last 20 or so years it’s grown into a $5.6 billion business in annual gross business income from fish and seafood wholesalers.”

And there’s agriculture. Washington shipped $8.6 billion worth of food and agricultural products overseas last year.

Timber is one of Washington’s legacy industries and it’s still going strong with $17 billion in gross revenues and about 140,000 jobs, direct and indirect.

“The timber industry is the third largest manufacturing sector in the state, transportation or Boeing being number one and petroleum number two, in terms of gross revenues” said Cindy Mitchell with the 105-year-old Washington Forest Protection Association. “So it is a big player across the state.”

Timber markets hit a multi-decade low in 2009, with housing starts at one-third normal, about 500,000 units.

“We’re now at about 900,000 units nationwide and as the second largest softwood lumber producer in the nation, our economy is directly tied to the housing market,” said Mitchell.

Innovation is sustaining the timber industry, which claims 5,000 different products from forest materials, including resins, glues, fuel, cosmetics and food.

Mitchell said advances in laminated lumber beams and engineered wood that is stronger and more resistant to fire is allowing construction of tall buildings, known as “woodscrapers.”

Architect Michael Green has designed a 30-story tower for Vancouver, B.C. that might be the tallest wooden structure in North America.

The state is also investing in new industries for the future, according to Richard Locke, head of the state Commerce Department’s Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness. He’s excited about new technologies, such as composites.

“We hope we can make that the next emerging industry,” said Locke. “People look at composites as the product that will replace aluminum in the workplace in almost every industry and we think we have some real leverage in that area.” The leverage being a trained workforce and low-cost power, said Locke.

Besides using composites to build airplane parts for the 787, Locke thinks it’s the future in automotive materials, too.

“BMW is coming up with a next-generation electric car and the body of that car, the materials that go into that body, are manufactured in Grant County,” Locke said.

The company working with BMW just announced a $100 million investment to add two new production lines at the Moses Lake facility.

Locke says the state Energy office is administering a $40 million clean energy fund to provide incentives for energy storage, research, emerging technologies and renewable energy sources.

“Jet fuels coming out of WSU, I mean my goodness, a lot of people don’t really appreciate this but Alaska Airlines took a flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C. using biofuels entirely. It’s very cool.”

While the state continues to bank on software and airplanes, a trade mission to China is just wrapping up with 100 delegates peddling everything from wine, to biotech, to Almond Roca.

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