There was a bit of me-too-ism at play last November when the Legislature passed a major tax-incentives extension for Boeing and other aerospace firms worth $8.7 billion. At the time, everyone from small businesses to high-tech and biotech behemoths said they’d like similar treatment, and Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama said he’d like the incentives to extend to companies that design, make or repair helicopters.
Two months later, Orcutt got a hearing on his bill to include “commercial rotorcraft” in the definition of “commercial airplanes.” House Bill 2203 is meant to help lure a Portland-based aviation firm to move to Cowlitz County when its current lease expires this year.
Mark D. Zimmerman, chief executive of Simplex Manufacturing, confirmed that his company is eyeing Cowlitz County as a possible site with 60 jobs. The company outfits helicopters with equipment to fight fires, deal with oil spills, and clean utility equipment. He said the industry is growing with strong export markets in China and South America.
“It certainly gives us a fighting chance to bring in those jobs,’’ Orcutt said in testimony in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee. He said it should not cost the state money because he is not aware of any other helicopter firm operating in the state.
The committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Jeff Morris of Mount Vernon, said he would work with Orcutt on refining the bill, and he hopes to get committee approval for it “in the next couple of weeks.’’ Morris indicated some concerns with working around the county’s designation as a historically underutilized business zone, which is a Small Business Administration program that helps companies in those locations.
The bill drew supportive testimony from Scot Walstra, vice president for the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, as well as Cowlitz County Commission chair Michael Karnofski. Both described a natural resource-dependent economy that needs to diversify its jobs base, and they indicated the addition of an aerospace firm could also help develop the Kelso airport, largest in the region.
Karnoski also said unemployment has run between 9 percent and 11 percent in the county over the past five years and that residents’ incomes lag the state median earnings by $10,000. They also lag in attainment of four-year college degrees.
Zimmerman said a tax incentive would be a factor in deciding to relocate to Washington. He said after the hearing that relocation costs money, and that his company wants to be on the same footing as other aerospace firms in the state.
“We are competing for the same workers and the same suppliers” as Boeing and other commercial aviation firms, he explained.
Walstra said he thinks the tax incentives are “critical” to winning the plant.
“I’m optimistic,” Orcutt said. “I think the need for it has been very well established. The benefit of doing so has been very well established.’’