By Glen Farley
AUBURN, WASH – The City of Auburn is embarking on an aggressive plan to build an aerospace oriented enterprise zone centered around the city’s general aviation airport.
“We’re really trying to enhance the airport, and maximize the economy of the airport,” said Bill Thomas, an Economic Development Planner with the City of Auburn.
He says the airport is recognized by King County’s Aerospace Alliance, as “… a gem in the rough.”
He says the airport currently maintains 300 direct and indirect jobs, with an economic impact of some $90 million a year, which Thomas hopes will double.
“We’re third in the county in terms of aviation growth,” he said.
The Auburn airport was built in the late 1960s as a general aviation airport dedicated to small aircraft. The changes would add another 500 feet to the runway for safety, and allow the construction of a taxiway on the west side of the airport. The idea is to be able to bring in small jets and other corporate aircraft, which the city expects will lead to more economic development. Thomas says the expansion will happen within the current fence lines of the airport.
And some of that development is already heading Auburn’s way. Just this week, the city passed legislation clearing the way for Orion Aerospace to build a 100,000 square foot facility to employ up to 265 people before the end of 2013. Ground breaking expected to start in December on three parcels of land assembled by the city from King County, King County Metro and a private owner.
“To be part of Auburn’s aerospace cluster is a pretty big deal for us.” Says Tom Brosius, Orion’s general manager. The company started out in Renton in 1957, but has been headquartered in Federal Way for more than 20 years. Brosius says the company’s current 46,000 square foot facility is, “Just flat out of room.”
Orion makes parts for Boeing, and was recently named Boeing’s Supplier of the year. But as you tour through the company’s Federal Way plant you may not realize that it’s mission is a bit different than other companies that make airplane parts. Orion is a social enterprise. It’s mission is to help train people for careers who otherwise have barriers to employment.”
“I’ve upgraded my resume,” said Tony Kilgore of Seattle, who started working at Orion in June. He hopes that his job here will lead to a career working for Boeing. “Now that I’ve got the training. Now I can apply.”
Kilgore was laid off from a Seattle tour bus operator 18 months ago. He was referred by the state’s vocational rehabilitation program.
John Dambacher’s been here since August, after he was referred by the City of Federal Way after six years of chronic unemployment and underemployed since 2006, when lost his last steady job as a carpenter.
“I’m heading to become a journeyman machinist,” said Dambacher, 51, who says he had never considered the career path before his referral to Orion.
Orion employs over 200 people now, and will have an additional 40 openings by November of 2013 when it expects to open the doors on its new Auburn plant. It expects to lease out the Federal Way facility which it owns.
Auburn was attractive to Orion in part because there are more opportunities for people to take public transit to get to work, including Sounder commuter trains. It would also be closer to Boeing’s large Auburn fabrication division where most of Orion’s parts go. Orion also makes parts for the automotive, medical and marine industries.
“Their primary mission is workforce development training. And that’s where they fit in,” said Bill Thomas with the city.
He says discussions are now ongoing with Green River Technical College to set up an aviation training facility at the airport to train students for careers aviation, including air traffic control.
Currently the Auburn Airport does not have a control tower. Thomas would like to see one built.