Over the last few years, Prosperity Partnership has been a leading proponent of making better connections with the military cluster here in the region. And it seems like everywhere I turn these days, that topic is a focus of conversation – whether it be the meeting we hosted here last week with the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition to try to address clean technology contracting opportunities or the success of legislation in the current state legislative session towards allowing military training to count toward civilian professional licenses.
Here’s a quick summary of some the major focuses and opportunities that our region needs to be considering.
Let’s actually start, though, by backing up for a minute. First off, this region has one of the largest concentrations of military bases and personnel in the country, from Joint Base Lewis McChord to naval installations in Everett and throughout Kitsap County. Plus, we have a wide variety of companies provided goods and services both to those bases as well as directly to the DoD (the biggest of which, obviously, being the Boeing Company). The full state economic impact of the military cluster is approximately 191,000 jobs and $12.2 billion in total output in Washington for FY 2009.
However, we know that Washington only ranks 23rd in the nation in defense contracting, despite ranking 7th in military personnel, so there’s clearly much more we can do. And some of that military contracting comes from the strangest sources. Like the specialty foods manufacturing industry, where local companies are providing food products not only to local bases but to the DoD for soldiers in modern versions of MREs. And the local fashion and apparel industry (like Tactical Tailor), which is supplying uniforms and high performance gear (they’re not in our region, but Nike is a huge DoD supplier).
But some of the most interesting impacts to me these days are the more subtle ones. A big focus of ours over the last few years has been taking advantage of the trained workforce that veterans can provide to our economy; for example, last year we celebrated the success of our proposal allowing military driver’s training to count toward a civilian Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Prior to this new program, service members were required to take costly and time-consuming commercial courses covering skills they had used for years in the military. This year, we’re supporting two legislative proposals that would continue to make it easier to transfer professional training from the military into civilian jobs: one that would authorize the Department of Health to recognize military experience in a wide variety of medical fields (from nursing to physical therapy to dentistry), and one that would direct the Department of Licensing to count military training toward licensing in careers such as cosmetology, land surveying and security guards. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg…between the huge cliff we’re about to fall off of when Boeing machinists all retire (and half of them are going to in the next 10-15 years), and the large gap in local engineers that we need for everything from aeropace to video games, there’s a lot more opportunity to take advantage of this workforce.
Finally, though, are the R&D and partnership opportunities. I was in a meeting last week with some UW folks who were talking about how, despite their national leadership in getting federal dollars (most grants of any public university in the country), they don’t get any DoD research funding. And there’s plenty of obvious opportunities for them. Like the global health link: they have the School of Global Health, and the region has the research begin done at Madigan and the soft power work that the Navy is doing to provide health care to developing countries and disaster victims. Or the UW’s growing focus on energy storage, biofuels and energy efficiency, which melds with the Secretary of the Navy’s effort to build the green fleet, possibly with our region as a leading test bed. How about the UW’s computer science department helping on cybersecurity issues? And I’m not even going to mention the obvious aerospace linkage, between the UW’s engineering and composites expertise matching with the Air Force tanker being built in Everett, the P-8A in Renton and the growing unmanned vehicles cluster in the state. Of course, you could replace UW in each of those examples with many other groups or companies: like Global Health Nexus, Seattle for global health partnerships.
The point that I’ve been hammering bluntly in this post is that the possibilities are deep and wide, like lyrics to the song Muddy Water from the Broadway musical Big River about the adventures of Tom Sawyer reference. And I have now officially linked our region’s military cluster to musical theater. It’s like 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon for those of us with dual majors in political science and theater. But I digress. What I’m trying to say is that we’ve made some great strides in the last few years, but we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. And I’m very excited to see how we can grow these linkages to grow our region’s economy in the future.