For the seventh year in a row, Washington marked the first week of October by celebrating the state’s remarkable manufacturing sector.
The Association of Washington Business, which serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing association, created Manufacturing Week to help tell the story of Washington’s innovative manufacturers in every corner of the state, from the smallest one- and two-person operations to Boeing’s Everett production facility, the largest building in the world.
One of the ways we do this is by hitting the road each year in a tour bus and crisscrossing the state, stopping at manufacturing operations all along the way. The tour stopped at Lampson International in Kennewick on Oct. 6.
It’s always good to connect with manufacturers at their facilities, to meet with their employees and to hear about their concerns and challenges.
And it’s fun to discover all the amazing products Washington makes, from the handmade leather gloves worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator,” to virtually every music stand in every school and symphony orchestra in the country.
This year, Manufacturing Week is even bigger, with the first-ever “State of Manufacturing” address on Oct. 5 from the shopfloor of Hotstart Thermal Management in Spokane. The event also provided an opportunity to take stock of the industry’s overall health, and to consider ways we can improve the business environment for manufacturers.
What are Washington’s biggest strengths for manufacturers? What are some areas that we could improve to help attract more manufacturers and help existing manufacturers grow and expand? Are we on track to double manufacturing by 2031, which is the goal adopted by the state Legislature two years ago?
It won’t be easy to achieve the goal, especially now that we’re seeing signs of a cooling economy. Washington’s employers added a total of 2,900 jobs in August, barely a fifth of the hiring a year ago, the state Employment Security Department reported.
Manufacturing was actually one of the bright spots. It is one of seven major industries that gained jobs in August, while employment across six other industries declined. Manufacturing employment rose by 2,800, led by 500 jobs gained in transportation equipment manufacturing. That’s up from the monthly increase of 1,000 jobs in August 2022.
Manufacturing grew year-over-year, as well, adding 4,900 jobs over the year, about a 2% increase in employment, the state’s data shows. That’s compared to other sectors where employment is decreasing or staying stagnant. Business and professional services, for example, has shed 7,800 jobs in the past year.
If we’re going to continue growing manufacturing in Washington, and hopefully double the size of the sector, it’s going to require action from our state’s elected leaders. We need to do things like attract young people to careers in manufacturing, ensure we have enough low-cost, reliable energy to fuel our manufacturers, and make smart tax and regulatory policy decisions.
The state has convened a Manufacturing Council to advise on policy, strategies and investment to grow manufacturing, and AWB – as part of the 21-member council – has submitted several policies for consideration. They include lowering the business and occupation (B&O) tax for manufacturing, offering tax incentives for investment in manufacturing and reducing the sales and use tax for manufacturing expansion.
These are just a few ideas for growing manufacturing. The good news is we’re starting from a position of strength. Washington is a state of makers and innovators, women and men who get up every day and go to work for employers that make products that are sent all over the country and around the world. That’s something worth celebrating, not only the first week of October, but all year long.
Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.