U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell was a long way from home Friday, but no matter.
She was a woman on a mission.
The Democrat, who has represented the state of Washington in the U.S. Senate for the past 14 years, flew into Savannah to tour Gulfstream Aerospace and gather more fodder for that mission, which she hopes will resonate from Seattle to Savannah and points in between.
“My main focus right now is to convince my colleagues in the U.S. Senate of the importance of aviation manufacturing in the United States of America,” said Cantwell, whose district is home to Boeing, the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners. “I can tell you, not everybody gets it.”
Cantwell said her state gets it, as does Savannah, where Gulfstream builds the world’s most advanced business jet aircraft.
“They know there are a lot of direct jobs and a lot of supply chain jobs linked to those businesses,” she said.
During her tour, Cantwell met with Gulfstream executives, including president Larry Flynn and senior vice president Ira Berman, to discuss the impact of general aviation manufacturing on the nation’s economy.
General aviation supports 1.2 million jobs around the country and $150 billion in economic activity. In Georgia alone, Gulfstream supports more than 10,000 direct jobs. The general aviation market has grown worldwide, with increasing demand for business aircraft around the globe.
Today, 50 percent of general aviation aircraft are exported. About 60 percent of Gulfstream’s $12.9 billion backlog will be delivered to international customers, according to Gulfstream spokesman Steve Cass.
In addition to spotlighting the financial importance of the aviation industry, Cantwell is calling for the reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, an independent federal agency that creates and maintains U.S. jobs by filling gaps in private export financing at no cost to American taxpayers.
Cantwell has led recent efforts to maintain the bank, whose authorization expires Sept. 30.
Earlier this year, the chairman of the Export-Import Bank was at Gulfstream headquarters to announce that the bank has topped $1 billion in financing support of American-made business aircraft and helicopters since the beginning of fiscal 2012.
The deal that helped push the bank over that goal well in advance of its deadline was the approval of a $300 million guarantee on a loan to Minsheng Financial Leasing Co. Ltd. of Tianjin, China, in December, 2013 to finance the purchase of eight aircraft manufactured in Savannah by Gulfstream.
“Gulfstream is a true success story of American manufacturing and a great example of the importance of general aviation to our nation’s economy,” Cantwell said. “General aviation plays a critical role in our nation’s aviation system, and Congress must do what we can to support the continued growth of American business aircraft.
“That’s why it’s time for Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank – without a short-term extension – to support thousands of American manufacturing jobs at Gulfstream and other leading exporters,” she said.
Meanwhile, Cantwell said the global middle class continues to explode, creating a greater need for products and services and providing more opportunities for the U.S. to grow jobs.
For example, she said, Boeing expects to deliver 35,000 new commercial jets in the next 20 years
“But we aren’t the only country chasing that opportunity,” she said. “We have the Brazilians, the Europeans, the Canadians, the Chinese, all chasing these opportunities.
“So, we have to keep innovating, need to have a skilled workforce and give people the tools they need in the marketplace to so they can continue to win as they close these deals.”
But, Cantwell emphasized, aviation manufacturing doesn’t just benefit the Seattle and Savannah areas.
“There are some 35,000 suppliers scattered all over the country, supporting commercial aviation manufacturing,” she said.
On the Gulfstream side of general aviation, Cass said the business jet manufacturer has some 3,500 suppliers. Berman added that about 70 percent of a Gulfstream aircraft’s worth comes from the supply chain.
Cantwell said she took part in a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday along with Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson.
“On the subject of manufacturing jobs, the numbers people thought we were at about 12.3 million,” Cantwell said. “I asked what was the upside, how many jobs could we add if we do things right in chasing these new markets? They said about 3 million in the next several years.
“Who wouldn’t want to go after that?
“We have to realize that 95 percent of consumers live outside the U.S. If we want to grow jobs and keep our middle class, we need to sell to the growing middle class around the world.”