State officials, suppliers seek prospects at Paris Air Show

Jun 22, 2017 Issues: Transportation

Seattle Times: State officials, suppliers seek prospects at Paris Air Show

  • By Dominic Gates

A Washington state delegation slogged through intense heat this week to speed-date potential clients in a rapid-fire series of business meetings at the Paris Air Show and a preshow visit to Airbus in Toulouse.

Aside from gathering intelligence on industry trends, the hope is that this effort will “later turn into real money and real jobs,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, who led the delegation.

Larsen said new growth areas with great potential for the state include commercial space and drones.

He said in a telephone interview that he was struck by the growth in global competition evident at the show, compared to his last visit four years ago. “The Chinese are here to stay,” Larsen said.

If the state didn’t send a delegation, he said, “we wouldn’t know how much people are eating our lunch.”

While Boeing and Airbus focus on announcing airplane sales in Paris, the big suppliers to the two giants use the occasion to network with sub-tier suppliers.

Several suppliers with facilities in Washington — for example, interiors manufacturer Zodiac, or systems supplier Crane Aerospace — are big enough to have their own presence at the Air Show. They and the smaller businesses represented in the state’s delegation, this year the largest ever to go to Paris, arrive looking for work contracts and to build relationships in the supply chain.

The state Department of Commerce cited one delegate who had failed to gain entree to Lockheed Martin in the U.S. but established a procurement contact with the defense contractor on the first day of the show.

Meanwhile, state government officials not only facilitate meetings for the suppliers in the delegation but also hunt for companies they can recruit to invest here.

Interest in Puget Sound

Brian Bonlender, director of the state Department of Commerce, returned from Europe Wednesday and said in an interview he had ”a number of positive meetings” with companies interested in locating work here.

One company, whose name he cannot disclose because of confidential discussions, is keen to get into the Boeing supply chain and is looking at Washington and several other states for a way in.

That company is seeking to either acquire an existing Boeing supplier and expand it — that’s the route taken by Spanish engineering firm MTorres in 2012 when it acquired Pacifica Engineering of Bothell — or else set up here itself if it can establish its own new supply agreement with Boeing.

Beyond Boeing, Washington has a particularly strong industrial presence in the design of aerospace-manufacturing equipment, through companies like Electroimpact and Janicki; and in the fabrication of aircraft interiors, through suppliers like Zodiac, in the process of being acquired by Safran, and B/E Aerospace, now part of Rockwell Collins.

At a high-level meeting with Safran in Paris, Bonlender said, he found the leadership keen to acquire the Zodiac plants in Washington state because it wants both more interiors work and closer proximity to Boeing.

He said he also found companies are increasingly interested in the overlap this region offers between aerospace and IT, with the potential to recruit talent in robotics and other research fields.

Bonlender said the delegation’s visit to Airbus in Toulouse was set up to encourage more engagement with the Airbus supply chain.

“Ten years ago, Boeing suppliers might not have been willing, at least publicly, to talk to Airbus,” Bonlender said.

Now, many more companies supply both manufacturers. And with single-aisle jet production in particular set to accelerate rapidly at both Airbus and Boeing, the entire supply chain has to step up, which creates new openings.

“We’re open to any and all original equipment manufacturers and suppliers,” Bonlender said.

Germany’s Premium AEROTEC, a subsidiary of Airbus, announced in Paris that it will open an office in the Seattle area.

Larsen said Washington-state companies need to position themselves to get on the Airbus supply chain.

“If it creates jobs in Washington state, we ought to be promoting that,” Larsen said.

The scorching weather in Paris for the Air Show, 95 degrees with high humidity, made it a brutal week for business meetings.

While the state delegates stayed in a central Paris hotel, they left each morning around 6 a.m. to make the long, slow commute to the Air Show grounds at Le Bourget and didn’t return until late.

 

“I sometimes call it the “Not-Actually-In-Paris Air Show,” said Larsen. “I didn’t get to see much of Paris.”

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