PORT ANGELES — A Joyce native plans to bring his business — which designs advanced cooling systems for military sensors and lasers — to Port Angeles.
And with it, Bill Lee, president of Airborne Environmental Control Systems, plans to create upward of 100 local jobs over the next 5 years.
“It’s really been a lifelong dream of mine to bring jobs back to Port Angeles and the Peninsula,” he said, adding that his family was hit hard by the decline in the logging industry.
He signed a 5-year lease with the Port of Port Angeles with planned expansion over the next 18 months. Airborne will have the option to renew the lease.
The Port of Port Angeles commissioners unanimously agreed to have Executive Director Karen Goschen sign the lease during a special meeting May 5.
Commissioner Colleen McAleer, who tried to encourage Lee to move some of General Electric’s operations to Port Angeles while she was the port’s director of business development, recused herself from discussions about Airborne’s lease.
Before starting Airborne, Lee was general manager of GE’s aviation mechanical systems division in Yakima.
Though she didn’t vote on the lease, McAleer said she is excited Airborne is relocating to Port Angeles.
“We’re excited to have them in our community,” she said.
Airborne, which is currently based in New York state, plans to relocate to Suite E at 2007 South O St. in Port Angeles and expand operations over the next 18 months.
The lease is effective May 1.
Airborne plans construction of office space during the first two months before transitioning into product development and production planning on site.
Now, the company only deals with engineering and design and outsources manufacturing of parts, Lee said.
He said Port Angeles will become Airborne’s headquarters as it expands to include manufacturing of parts.
In the coming months, he plans to hire people to work with computer numerical control (CNC) machines, 3-D printing, environmental testing, engineering, procurement and other disciplines.
He has hopes of working with Peninsula College to help train employees, he said.
He anticipates bringing 14 employees with him to Port Angeles, but will need to hire the rest.
Lee said he’ll likely hire 15-20 people per year over the next 5 years as Airborne expands its manufacturing.
The parts the company designs — and plans to manufacture itself in Port Angeles — are cooling systems for military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor systems, which are commonly used on unmanned aerial vehicles and fighter aircraft, Lee said.
They also build cooling systems for directed energy weapons — lasers.
“That’s the future of where our military is moving,” he said. “It’s like Star Wars; you literally have laser weapons on board aircraft.”
Lee said he was thankful the port gave the company such a good deal with the lease.
“I’m just happy the port played the way they have,” he said.
The first two months will be rent free. Then Airborne will pay 50 percent of the rent during product development for the next nine months.
After that, Airborne will be paying 30 cents per square foot.
During the first phase the company will lease 5,000 square feet of space, with plans of expanding an additional 10,000 square feet for production around April of 2018.
Then the company plans to expand another 10,000 square feet for engineering and office space around September of 2018.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at j[email protected].