Thompson Metal Fab as our Boeing? Not quite.

Thompson Metal Fab executives will tell you they don’t particularly like being in the spotlight. Lately, the Vancouver-based company can’t seem to escape it.

The manufacturer has become a major focus in the debate over the Columbia River Crossing, particularly the $3.4 billion project’s proposed 116-foot bridge height. That’s too low for Thompson and two of its neighbors at the Columbia Business Center to fit their largest products under the planned Interstate 5 Bridge replacement.

CRC opponents haven’t been shy about stating Thompson’s regional importance in their call for a different bridge design. State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, even said this of Thompson at a recent meeting on the subject:

“They are, for all intents and purposes, our Boeing,” Rivers said. “And we need to take care of them.”

Hold on. Thompson is certainly a big player in the local economy. But our Boeing? Let’s check the numbers.

Thompson, a builder of large industrial products including oil rig components, employs close to 300 people at its Vancouver facility. Boeing, the Seattle-based aerospace giant, employs 85,488 workers in Washington alone, almost all of them in the Puget Sound region.

OK, we already knew Boeing is a behemoth beyond comparison. It’s by far the largest employer in the state, and has many more workers in other parts of the country and abroad. But what about as a percentage of the local economy?

Thompson’s 300 workers represent about 0.2 percent of Clark County’s employed workforce of 190,100 people. If you take Boeing’s staff as a share of the employed workforce in Puget Sound — let’s call it King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties — it comes out to about 4.4 percent. Not even close.

Expand the sample to include Washington’s entire employed workforce of 3.2 million people, and Boeing accounts for 2.6 percent of that — still much more than Thompson’s piece of the Clark County pie.

(For the record, Clark County’s largest employer is PeaceHealth. The health nonprofit employs more than 4,000 people locally.)

All of this isn’t to say that Thompson Metal Fab and its workers aren’t important to our local economy. They are. Ongoing mitigation talks with the CRC have millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs at stake.

But putting Thompson on the same level as Boeing? That’s a pretty big stretch.

Eric Florip

Eric Florip

I'm the environment/transportation reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Contact me at or 360-735-4541.

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