Washington’s future role in space industry

Washington’s future role in space industry

State lawmakers in recent years have introduced various proposals related to the state’s space industry. Washington is known as the “Silicon Valley of Space” due to the cluster of industry employers, and HB 1190 sponsored by Rep. Matt Boehnke (R-8) aims to find out what public policies would strengthen and expand that industry in the state.

A 2018 study by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) found that the industry generates 1.8 billion for the state economy and employs 2,900 people.

Among the 100 employers located in 38 Washington cities is Blue Origin, which is working on commercial space travel and has a design, fabrication, and assembly plant in Kent. Blue Origin Government Relations Director Gus Miller told the House Community & Economic Development Committee at a Feb. 3 work session that the company’s ultimate goal is to have “millions of people living and working in space in order to benefit the earth and preserving the planet.”

Under HB 1190, the state Department of Commerce would conduct a study on what public policies would strengthen and expand the state’s new space economy, with the report due to the legislature no later than Oct. 31, 2022.

Among the bill’s supporters is Aerospace Futures Alliance CEO Emily Wittman, who told the committee “our goal really is to make Washington state the recognized center of aerospace innovation and excellence around the world. (HB) 1190 really does that.”

She noted that the reduced commercial air travel last year has had aerospace companies looking for other business options.” (There are) lots of opportunities in global defense, but where Washington state really shines…is in this entrepreneurial space ecosystem. We are a space state, but we are an entrepreneurial state.”

State Department of Commerce Aerospace Industry Sector Director Robin Toth told the committee that space industry growth can also lead to economic development benefits in local communities. Last year SpaceX Project provided high-speed internet access to the Hoh Tribe in Forks via Starlink satellites.

The 2018 PSRC study recommended various ways to further support the state’s space industry, including venture capital for small space companies, incubators for space startup companies, and growing the available local workforce. It also recommended state tax credits for space craft and satellite manufacturing, something SB 6411 introduced in the 2018 session would have done. However, that bill failed to clear the legislature.

Wittman told the committee that one way to aid the industry is through tax preferences, but “doing it in a way that doesn’t necessarily extend B&O rate reductions.” She added that a state sales and use tax preference led to growth for the aerospace industry in Moses Lake by “just fixing a little glitch in our tax code.” Moses Lake is the location of the Grant County International Airport.

Testifying in favor of the bill was Port of Moses Lake lobbyist Bruce Beckett, who said it “builds upon the history of Moses Lake of being the backup landing site for the space shuttle program.” The port recently signed a five-year lease agreement with Renton-based startup company Stoke Space Technologies for 2.3 acres to be used for testing.

Also supportive was Association of Washington Business Government Affairs Director for Manufacturing Tommy Gantz, who said “our state’s ideally suited for the (aerospace) work.” She added that the legislature should “continually look for other ways to help our Washington state manufacturing and space sectors thrive.”

No further action is scheduled for HB 1190.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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