Satellites like this CRS-S Dragon will fuel Seattle’s economy.

As we learned last week, Elon Musk’s innovative commercial rocket company, Space

As we learned last week, Elon Musk’s innovative commercial rocket company, Space Explorations Technology—or SpaceX, as it’s more commonly known—has landed in the Puget Sound area.

Expecting to employ 60 people “in the short run,” according to Bloomberg News, Musk describes the future workspace as “a satellite office for satellites.” And while Musk’s company has interplanetary designs—this month SpaceX conducted its fifth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA, and Musk’s ultimate goal of making human life on Mars a reality is well known—in the Northwest the company’s biggest impact may be on the local economy. Headquartered in Los Angeles, SpaceX already employs over 3,000 people across the country, including in offices in Houston and Washington, D.C. Musk has said that his new SpaceX office—in Redmond, reportedly—will hire as many as 1,000 people in three or four years.

Space, just as it’s been since Boeing began construction of the Lunar Rover back in 1969, is big business in the Northwest. And Musk isn’t alone in identifying our region as a prime location to do business.

While the aerospace industry is nothing new to our region, within the past decade a number of smaller companies have also decided to call the Seattle area home. According to Governor Jay Inslee’s office, roughly 30 companies statewide (excluding Boeing) do space business in Washington, employing some 2,000 people. Planetary Resources, for example, also based in Redmond, has built a nimble company of over 40 employees working on the mining of asteroids. Company President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki has been known to optimistically foresee the Pacific Northwest as the “Silicon Valley of aerospace.”

“Seattle is a center for innovation in a lot of different things,” Lewicki tells Seattle Weekly when asked why Planetary Resources chose to locate here in 2010. “Boeing has a very long arm here, and for a long time that included a lot of aerospace activity. Those things are good in terms of thinking as a small company and as a start-up, and being able to leverage resources.”

Lewicki identifies the existing aerospace institutions and facilities that have been built here over the years, thanks to institutions like Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne, as a huge draw for upstart companies such as his. “From a technology standpoint, everything that our type of space company really needed was already here,” he says.

“It gets down to facilities,” he says. “In the manufacturing and building of a satellite, as a start-up, we don’t necessarily want to build up all our facilities. [In the Pacific Northwest,] those things are available to rent. We can rent them the same way Boeing does. Everything we need . . . . they’re all right at hand here in Puget Sound.”

But make no mistake, the Pacific Northwest’s pool of potential employees—from those with aerospace backgrounds to the growing wealth of tech talent—is the region’s biggest selling point. Among Planetary Resources’ workforce are Pacific Northwest natives and University of Washington grads skilled in the trade of aerospace. SpaceX will likely pull some of its own workforce from the same population.

“There’s a huge amount of talent in the Seattle area, and a lot of you guys, it seems, don’t want to move to L.A.,” Musk told the crowd—described by Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times as “hand-picked engineers identified by SpaceX recruiters as potential hires”—during a private event last week at Fischer Pavilion.

Seattle is quickly establishing itself as a big-time destination for companies looking to make money off the stars. As Alex Pietsch, director of Gov. Inslee’s aerospace office and an advisor to the governor on issues related to space, notes, “I think the SpaceX decision just further illustrates that fact.”

Pietsch tells Seattle Weekly that the state offered no incentives to lure SpaceX to town, but he admits that the Pacific Northwest is one of a handful of regions known as hotbeds of the industry, and that the competition among these places to land future business is very real. With L.A., Houston, and Washington, D.C., Pietsch says, the Puget Sound region is on the short list for any company looking to get into the business. Other states, like Colorado and Ohio, are aggressively trying to break in, according to Pietsch, and are not shy about routinely offering things like tax breaks, cash payments, facilities, and infrastructure as incentives.

In other words, the space race is real, and will likely only intensify.

“In this case we didn’t have to do a whole lot,” Pietsch says of Musk’s decision to bring SpaceX to town. “They identified this as place they wanted to be without us going and finding them.

“States and regions are competing every day for this type of investment. We’re competing every day,” Pietsch says. “There are states that would kill for this kind of opportunity.”

More in News & Comment

Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington Three Percenters gun rights group, addresses a crowd rallying for Second Amendment rights Jan. 17 at the state Capitol in Olympia. Marshall condemned Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, which expelled Rep. Matt Shea from the Republican Caucus. Marshall announced his candidacy for the 2nd District seat held by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gun rights advocates rally at Capitol

Criticism levied at Matt Shea investigation, Republican leadership.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (center) announced a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in a press conference Jan. 2. Debbie Warfield of Everett (left) lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2012. Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki (right) lost her son to an overdose of OxyContin in 2017. They are joined by Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline (second from right), founder of the Washington Recovery Alliance. (TVW screenshot)
AG Bob Ferguson talks lawsuits, gun control

Washington state Attorney General stopped by Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office.

Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, the primary sponsor of SB 5323, speaking on the bill. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Sabio-Howell)
Proposed law adds a fee to plastic bags at checkout

Senate passes bill to ban single-use plastic bags, place 8-cent fee on reusable plastic bags.

Renton Education Association board voted out by union

Union members use their power to remove leaders from office

In November 2019, Washington voters approved Initiative 976, which calls for $30 car tabs. Sound Publishing file photo
Republicans try to guarantee $30 car tabs amid court hangup

Lawmakers sponsor companion bills in the House and Senate.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of
King County could bump up Metro electrification deadlines

Transportation generates nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his 2020 State of the State Address on Tuesday, Jan. 14. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Office of the Governor)
Gov. Inslee delivers State of the State Address

By Leona Vaughn, WNPA News Service OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee stood… Continue reading

A 50-minute film called “Spawning Grounds,” which documents the effort to save a freshwater variety of kokanee salmon from Lake Sammamish, is finally ready for its debut in North Bend on Jan. 18. (Screenshot from film)
Spawning Grounds: Lake Sammamish kokanee documentary premieres Jan. 18

The film tracks the ‘all hands on deck’ effort to save the little red fish from extinction.

Family, friends of paraplegic man killed in shootout with Federal Way police outraged over his death

Family says the 23-year-old man’s death was “senseless”; accuse police of excessive force and withholding information that the man used a wheelchair.

Most Read