This week presents as grand a stage as any to burnish the state of Washington’s global standing as an aerospace hub: the 51st International Paris Air Show. And Clark County, home to 84 companies tied to the aerospace and defense industries, isn’t about to miss out on it.
A representative of the nonprofit Columbia River Economic Development Council, the county’s longtime recruiter of businesses and promoter of jobs, will be there. A leader of Silicon Forest Electronics, a Vancouver-based manufacturer of electronics services for the aerospace and unmanned systems sectors, will be there, too.
For the development council, the world’s largest and longest-running aerospace trade show affords multiple opportunities. One of them is to advance a relationship with an aerospace-related company that’s interested in relocating to Clark County, according to Mike Bomar, president of the Vancouver-based development council.
While he can’t divulge details because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, Bomar said, he expects to talk with the company at the Paris Air Show to better understand its supply-chain relationships and to see what can be done to help it “hit the ground running.”
Meanwhile, Jay Schmidt, executive vice president and general manager for Silicon Forest Electronics, which has 86 employees, will represent his company at the biannual spectacle, which runs from Monday to June 21. Held at Le Bourget Airport in north Paris, the show is expected to attract more than 150,000 industry attendees and feature more than 2,000 exhibitors from 45 countries.
For Schmidt, the extravaganza is nothing less than an opportunity to reach across borders to build business relationships and to land new customers.
“The world is getting smaller and flatter,” he said, “so, because of that, we have to keep our outreach going.”
The development council and Silicon Forest Electronics are part of a larger state delegation spearheaded by the state Department of Commerce. The delegation includes everyone from private companies and regional economic development agencies from different parts of the state to the University of Washington William E. Boeing Department of Astronautics and Aeronautics.
Their showcase at the Paris Air Show: a 700-square-foot exhibit titled “Washington State: Soaring to New Heights. The Next 100 Years in Aerospace.” The state’s aerospace sector directly employs more than 132,000 people and contributes more than $85.7 billion in revenue annually, according to the Commerce Department.
Penny Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department, said impressive deals were made during the 2013 Paris Air Show. Small companies that are part of the state’s aerospace supply chain and that attended the 2013 event “have generated over $35 million in new international sales,” she said in an email to The Columbian.
‘A larger spectrum’
Indeed, the stakes are high.
The aerospace and defense industries are anticipated to grow to a value of $4.5 trillion in the next 20 years, according to “Flying Into the Future With Aerospace & Defense,” a 93-page study conducted in 2014 for economic development agencies in Washington and Oregon.
Regions and suppliers will benefit from those industries “over the next 20 years as air traffic has doubled every 15 years since 1970 and will do so through 2030,” the study says. Moreover, North America is the largest aviation market in the world, the study shows, with more than 115 airlines, 4,000 aircraft and more than 730 million passengers flying “from, to and within the U.S.”
The Pacific Northwest enjoys a healthy place in the larger market, according to the study, including the looming presence of Boeing, and the machine shops, engineering firms and other companies that support the world’s largest plane-maker. Meanwhile, companies around the world are itching to serve Boeing’s 777X and 737 MAX commercial airplane programs.
However, it might not be enough for suppliers to look to Boeing and its European rival, Airbus, for a steady stream of business. At least, the “Flying Into The Future” study issues a kind of warning against flat-footedness: “Until recently, Boeing competition has been limited to the European Union’s Airbus. Today, companies in Canada, Brazil, China, Japan and Russia are competing to challenge the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.”
“To limit their risk,” the study goes on, “supplier companies … should seek to diversify their products, the industries they supply and the geographic markets into which they sell.”
The need to stay on top of things isn’t lost on Schmidt, the executive vice president with Silicon Forest Electronics. And the Paris Air Show, he said, “allows us to get more breadth of business development across a larger spectrum.”
Likewise, Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said he’s prepared to put Clark County on the radar of companies he meets at the international event. That will include informing them of the region’s favorable tax structure, low energy costs and skilled workforce. Reliable energy costs, he said, are “important to a lot of materials manufacturers.”
Thomas, the Commerce Department spokeswoman, said the measures for success at this year’s event will include the value of new export sales, and the number of new investment leads generated and investment projects landed.
In May, the department held a boot camp in Seattle to prepare delegates for the Paris Air Show. After all, it’s not every day that you find all of the world’s major aerospace companies on one tarmac. That makes it “very efficient to schedule many meetings with companies of interest over just a few days,” Thomas said, even as the delegates check in with the leaders of companies “who may have a presence in Washington state but are headquartered elsewhere.”