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Washington's small aerospace companies buoyed by federal COVID-19 rescue package

Small manufacturing firms that make parts say American Rescue Plan is helping keep the doors open after the pandemic devastated the airline and aerospace industries.

LAKE STEVENS, Wash. — About $3 billion of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan now signed into law by President Joe Biden is slated to help keep people on the job at aerospace manufacturers.

Airlines, airports and companies like Boeing and the thousands of small firms that make parts were all impacted by the steep drop in flying with the pandemic, including many firms here in Washington.

They say the rescue plan gives them some hope about continuing to weather the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the companies planning to apply for the grant is Cobalt Enterprises of Lake Stevens, which how employs 105 people.  Last fall, about 70% of the company’s business was related to aerospace.

The company was also able to get a Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan to keep people working in the early months of the COVID-19 crisis.  

Cobalt did lay off about seven of its employees, but it is now hiring again with PPP and its ability to do short runs of complex machined parts.

The copmany's nimble nature gives it a competitive advantage over larger companies, says Cobalt's President Fred Schule. The company also acquired a sheet metal business near the Arlington Airport, saving 21 jobs there.

“It’s just a matter of getting from here to there. And these funds, these loans help us get there,” Schule said.

Without the loans from last year, CEO Paul Clark says the company could have lost 30% of its workforce. He says doing the kind of sophisticated complex machine work they do, means it’s important to keep teams of employees together

“As things go down, we don’t want to break up those teams. Because when things come back again it’s hard to put the teams back together,” Clark said.

But the two company leaders are getting creative and trying to keep everyone busy.

They are even making parts for an automatic pizza maker and picking up more sheet metal jobs, even for things as simple as shelving brackets.

Schule expects aerospace to pick up in the third or fourth quarter. Schule said while business hasn’t necessarily gone away, it’s been delayed for months and months.

“And 2022 is already starting to look good, because many of our orders were pushed out,” he said.  

Federal funding provides a bridge.

“We used PPP funds here, and we will use this grant money to help us with that predictability about knowing that we can keep the groups working between now and when the orders do pick up,” Clark said.

 

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