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Kris Johnson | Manufacturing sector is vital to Washington’s economic health

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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. And, 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 AWB’s second-annual Manufacturing Week bus tour Oct. 4-12. Staff, elected and local officials, 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, like Valley and Bingen and urban centers like 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 have always been grounded in hands-on careers.

The Boeing company 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. And as the state’s largest private-sector employer, it 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 every size company as we saw during our bus tour which, not only stopped at Boeing’s Everett production facilities but also many of the state’s smallest manufacturers. In fact, three quarters of manufacturing firms have less than 20 employees and gross revenues of less than $1 million.

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

In Poulsbo, we toured R. Mathews Optical, a manufacturer of custom precision optical components. With just three employees, the company is the only optics manufacturer in Washington state and is the first in the U.S. to manufacture aspheric, or curved, optics in production.

Then there was the visit to Experimental Aircraft Metal Fabrication located at the Curtis Airstrip in west Lewis County. Steve and Jilene Furjesi run the business in a shop behind their rural home where they manufacture parts for experimental and small aircraft. With just three employees, this small business is a supplier to customers far and wide. Another small manufacturer, Hobart Machined Products, has been making aerospace parts for Boeing from a small shop in rural King County for the last 40 years.

But, 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.

The next time you pick up a box of Chukar Cherries, drive by a healthy crop of wheat, or see a Boeing airplane 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 state’s chamber of commerce and designated manufacturing association.