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Why Washington leads states in personal income: Gov. Inslee

A new Boeing wing can bring more than 1,350 companies and over 132,000 workers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Source: The State of Washington
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

America's advantage in the knowledge-based economy is our human capital. Well-educated, highly-trained, creative-thinking people are essential to the most innovative companies and successful entrepreneurs in the world today. Skilled people are the currency of economic development for states in the 21st century.

Why are nearly 95 percent of all the commercial aircraft in North America built in Washington state? Why is our Puget Sound region the cloud computing capital? Why do we lead the nation in personal income growth?

Washington is a state of confidence. We continue to see strong job growth and in-migration.

We don't take our economic standing for granted, and it isn't by accident. Our people are the single most important factor in retaining and growing the businesses we have and attracting new businesses and jobs over the next decade. It's why we're investing in a full continuum of education, including STEM and workforce development, and we're the only state in the nation to cut tuition for all college students.

As big data and automation play an ever greater role in our lives, so too grows the demand for talent. Whether it's aerospace, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, clean energy, information and communications technology, life sciences, maritime or military, a set of common needs — ingredients for success — is clear among these diverse industry sectors.

From idea to market, in the test lab and on the factory floor, highly specialized knowledge and skills are essential to nearly every workplace today. Business visionaries and leaders congregate in clusters where the best tools for success already exist.

I'm proud that Washington is one of those places and one of the best states for business.

The new Boeing boom

For example, as Boeing celebrates 100 years since starting up on the shores of Lake Union in Seattle, the company recently opened a mammoth new billion-dollar composite wing center to the north. It will house three of the world's largest autoclaves used to make the world's largest carbon fiber wings for the 777x jetliner.

Second- and third-generation Boeing workers are among the men and women who will produce those planes, the most fuel-efficient ever. As a result, leading companies from around the globe continue to locate and expand here, seeking proximity to the most robust aerospace supply chain anywhere on Earth, with more than 1,350 companies and over 132,000 workers.

More importantly, many of those companies serve not only other military and commercial aircraft manufacturers and airlines but also entirely different industries: clean energy, automotive, recreational equipment, medical devices, to name a few.

Our state's world-class talent base in software development, data analytics, telecommunications, machine learning and business intelligence is extremely attractive for established companies and entrepreneurs alike. Our tech sector pays $25 billion in annual wages for 176,000 workers, including 90,000 of the best software developers anywhere.

"Our tech sector pays $25 billion in annual wages for 176,000 workers, including 90,000 of the best software developers anywhere."

That's one reason we now have a thriving space cluster. Standing-room-only crowds came to Seattle recently for the NewSpace 2016 Conference, where Blue Origin founder and Washington Space Coalition member Jeff Bezos was awarded the Heinlein Prize for accomplishments, including reusability in commercial spaceflight.

Space is growing here because we have all the ingredients: a highly skilled workforce, a diversity of established industry sectors, a culture of entrepreneurship and risk-taking, exceptional quality of life, clusters of world-class research and innovation, and strong ties to the fastest-growing international markets.

This is just one example where Washington state's key sectors and competitive advantages match up extraordinarily well with growth opportunities and characteristics of the future U.S. and global economies. Bolstering that position is our status as the largest per-capita exporter of all states, with 1 in 3 jobs related to trade.

Effective public-private partnerships that build on our state's strengths will also help us to continue meeting the changing needs of existing and prospective employers in the foreseeable future. The private sector is stepping up to help fund research and commercialization where government no longer leads the way. This is true for NASA and space and also life-altering discoveries in science and global health.

Our business climate is enriched by private enterprise joining forces with NGOs, research institutions, public education, labor and civic leaders to maximize the many collective advantages we have to offer businesses here in the Evergreen State.

Together we are strengthening communities throughout this state by investing in education, infrastructure and maintaining our clean environment and natural resources.

These are the qualities that inspire people from all walks to live, work and raise families here. And these are the people who enable business legends to thrive here.

— By Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Editor's note: This commentary was written before the release of the Top States 2016 data. The governor did not have knowledge of the rankings or the comprehensive data.