Why is space commercialization thriving in Washington State?

  • July 7, 2016

John Thornquist, Director, Office of Aerospace, explains some of the many reasons why a robust space cluster emerged from Washington’s booming aerospace and technology sectors. These are his welcome remarks delivered at the sold-out NewSpace 2016 Conference, held June 21-23, 2016 in Seattle, WA.

Thank you Cameron, and thanks to the Space Frontier Foundation for bringing this important conference to Washington State for the first time. On behalf of our Governor Jay Inslee and my colleagues throughout the aerospace industry, we are delighted to be your hosts, and I am personally honored to have this opportunity to speak with you today.

This is a milestone for the State of Washington. It affirms another leap for our aerospace industry, now more than a century old. We’ve been at the forefront, designing and building some of the most advanced and successful commercial and military aircraft, unmanned aerial systems and scientific exploration vehicles the world has ever known. Now, newspace is coming to Washington.

Our space ecosystem is certainly not new. The Boeing Space Center in Kent opened in 1964. Their first stage of the Saturn 5 rocket helped launch Apollo missions, lunar orbiters photographed landing sites, and Boeing’s lunar rovers ferried astronauts across the surface of the moon. Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond built the motors that helped Curiosity land on Mars.

Today Washington’s space cluster is not just deeply rooted, it’s thriving. This robust growth is due in part, I believe, to four essential ingredients that we have here:

First, The businesses and the highly-skilled workforce are here. We are designing the rockets; we are building the rockets. Our aerospace workforce numbers more than 130,000 of the best-trained men and women in the world, working in some 1,350 aerospace-related firms. We have the deepest pool of software talent outside of Silicon Valley. Nearly 200,000 people working in over 14,000 firms.

Without a doubt, we have the high tech talent, the engineers and the advanced manufacturing expertise to support the businesses and entrepreneurs who are envisioning the opportunities evolving from our ability to work and travel in space.

As the space industry uses more lightweight composite materials, robotic processes and advanced electronics, Washington state suppliers and workers are at the leading edge.

Companies all over the state are branching into space-related work. Janicki Industries in Sedro Wooley builds tooling and machine parts for NASA space missions…Electroimpact builds carbon-fiber tape-laying robots in Mukilteo…AeroGo in Tukwila supplies air casters to help move rockets.

Big data plays an increasingly vital role in aerospace – another sweet spot for Washington State. For example, unmanned aerial systems have a large IT component – all that data gathered needs to be analyzed. Similarly, planes and rockets have systems that produce a tremendous amount of data. Command and control systems for all these segments are increasingly becoming automated.

Washington State’s world-class talent base in telecommunications, software development, data analytics, machine learning, business intelligence and the Internet of Things is extremely attractive for established companies and entrepreneurs alike.

This points to another great strength of Washington state: We have an ingrained culture of entrepreneurship. We embrace vision and we value risk-taking that leads to great advances. From medical devices to aircraft; desktop software to cloud computing, time and time again, life-changing innovation has happened here, giving rise to entire new industry sectors and opportunities.

Today it’s no longer just NASA and the federal government financing new space programs. We are seeing a new growth sector. We’ve moved from space exploration to space commercialization. The private sector is stepping up, and our entrepreneurial culture here in Washington is ideally suited for new space collaboration.

Third, we have extraordinary university and research capacity in some of the world’s top centers and programs for Computer Science, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, materials and advanced manufacturing. At the University of Washington, we have the Boeing Aerospace Research Center; an academic and private partnership housed at the UW where they are exploring advanced intelligent semi-autonomous robotic manufacturing. Their collaboration will improve the quality of the manufacturing, not only in its efficiencies, but in minimizing injury risks for aerospace workers.

Washington State University, located in Eastern Washington, has satellite campuses in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, and Spokane. WSU is co-located at and collaborating with Everett Community College. Students there earn degrees in Software Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering with hands-on education in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, carbon-fiber composites manufacturing and repair, and robotics. Soon, the mechatronics lab will be fully capitalized and fully staffed to support more advanced manufacturing and engineering.

And fourth, we have the support from our state’s leaders, in policy and partnerships. Collaboration is the binding element for success; it gives us the collective power to achieve great things.

Effective public-private partnerships are characteristic of Washington’s culture of innovation, and that’s abundantly clear today in our growing space cluster. Strong participation from all corners of the business, higher education and labor communities has been key to our State’s success.

You need not look far to see evidence of this public-private collaboration throughout the state…Raisbeck Aviation High School in Tukwila, the Aerospace Education Center at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center in Everett, the Pierce County Skills Center, the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation, and the Peninsula College Advanced Manufacturing-Composite Technology training center and laboratory in Port Angeles.

All of these schools and technical centers are a result of partnerships with the aerospace industry in its continued efforts to educate the next generation of advanced manufacturers.
Just a few weeks ago, I was appointed to lead the Washington State Space Coalition. They are doing their part in growing the Space Ecosystem as well. It started three years ago with the purpose of creating a collaborative network between businesses, government, academia and the investment community to further commercialization of the Space Industry. There are numerous major companies participating today: Blue Origin, Vulcan Aerospace, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, Planetary Resources, Tethers Unlimited, Spaceflight Industries, and Esterline, just to name a few.

We also have Space Angels Network who is an active participant in linking investors with opportunities in the Space Industry.
Washington State University and the University of Washington are also represented. Both are active in education and research in the Space Arena and in studying space policy within the United States and around the world.

The Museum of Flight, located right here in Seattle, is the largest non-profit aerospace museum in the world. Their participation in the coalition ensures that we continue to focus on the future of Aerospace, not only in business, but in teaching future generations about the importance of space flight, space technology and space innovation. I want to thank both Doug King and Geoff Nunn for their support of the Washington State Space Coalition.

But why Washington; what is it about this place that draws and builds business legends?

There is a very special quality of life here that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It’s a unique advantage that stretches far beyond Puget Sound where we sit today. 35 of our state’s 39 counties have aerospace related companies.

For example, Mitsubishi’s flight test center for the MRJ is on the other side of the mountains, in Grant County in Moses Lake . Their airport has a 13,500 foot runway that has been used for decades for aerospace flight testing. BMW’s joint venture with SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers is also located in Moses Lake. SGL is the largest carbon fiber producer in the world.

Kaiser Aluminum and Exotic Metals are located in Spokane County near the Eastern border of the state. It may seem far away, but you can have breakfast in Seattle, and enjoy lunch in Spokane.
Business in the Spokane Valley is booming. With more than 8,000 people working in Aerospace, they are the largest Aerospace Ecosystem in Eastern Washington.

Insitu is on the Columbia River, on the southern border of our state. Now a subsidiary of The Boeing Company, Insitu is a leader in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and is surrounded by several other companies forming a UAV cluster.

Washington State has diverse geography and character. This place is unlike any other. Washingtonians from all walks of life share a passion for their communities, the natural environment, and a spirit of independence. We dream big and we work hard, together, to build strong communities that offer opportunities for all.

Why Washington?

When people decide to work in Washington or move their businesses to Washington, it is not only because of the employment opportunities our state has to offer, but it is also the quality of life.

Quality of life in regards to recreation. Washington is known for boating, skiing, mountain biking, cycling, fishing, and golf. In the last year, Washington State has hosted the Men’s U.S. Open and Women’s PGA Championship tournaments. Not bad for the Northwest corner of the United States.

We have over a half a dozen ski resorts in Washington accessible from both sides of the Cascade Mountains. It may not be Colorado, but it is oh so convenient to have good skiing within 2 hours of almost anywhere you live.

We have two mountain ranges in our state that offer excellent hiking and camping. Residents of Washington love the great outdoors.

We look at Quality of life in regards to education. Whether you live in Western or Eastern Washington, we have some of the finest public institutions in the nation. In the Western part of our state, the University of Washington is considered one of the top medical, engineering and research universities in America. Western Washington University in Bellingham, The Evergreen State College in Olympia, and our acclaimed community and technical colleges, such as Olympic College in Kitsap County, provide multiple pathways to continue education after high school and to grow and adapt throughout a person’s career.

In Eastern Washington we have Washington State University in Pullman, Eastern Washington University near Spokane, and Central Washington University in Ellensburg. We also have Gonzaga University in Spokane and many other private institutions offering a abundance of educational choices.

We see quality of life in regards to lifestyle settings. The state offers intense urban settings, suburban living, and the peace and quiet of rural communities to make your home and raise a family. Seattle is known for its dense core, allowing people to live and work in the city without the need to commute by car. I myself work in downtown Seattle and take the bus to work from Ballard.

If density is not to your liking, you can also choose a more suburban or rural setting and still have access to outstanding transportation and broadband communications systems, wherever you decide to work or locate your companies.

And last but not least, when I think about “Why Washington,” I believe it is our quality of life with respect to diversity and tolerance.
Washington State is known for being a welcoming place for people of all walks of life and from many different backgrounds and experiences. Whether you come from countries nearby in North America, or far-flung continents and nations half a world away, you will find a diverse mix of people from all over the globe here. Whatever culture you are from or color you are, including the colors of the rainbow, Washington State welcomes you.

As Governor Inslee said in his state-of-the-state address this year, we are “a state of confidence.” We all share the Governor’s pride to live, work and raise our families in the most innovative, forward-thinking, dynamic state in the nation.

On behalf of our great state of Washington, I thank you, again, for choosing Seattle for NewSpace2016. I am looking forward to forging new relationships over the next couple of days, and hope that you are too.

New space is coming to Washington…and we’re more than ready for it!

Thank you and Welcome to Washington!

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