Final Analysis: Paine Management

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When I was a kid, my dad would occasionally drive the family to the airport and park the station wagon outside the fence at the end of the runway so we could watch the airplanes take off and land.

Over the years, the value of the airport as entertainment venue has waned. Today, most of us place the airport somewhere between necessary evil and public annoyance. Vehement opposition to airport development or expansion—anywhere, anytime —has become more predictable than the Mariners re-re-signing Raúl Ibañez.

And so it plays out again, this time in Snohomish County, where many residents and government officials are positively incensed that their local airport might become, well, an airport.

In December, the Federal Aviation Administration released an environmental assessment report that declared regularly scheduled airline service at Paine Field would not cause undue noise or traffic. Of course, any card-carrying member of the Not In My Backyard Alliance would dispute such a finding on the grounds that airport development should occur only in a vacuum or an Iowa cornfield, whichever happens to be farthest from said member’s frame of reference.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which flies regularly from Bellingham to places like Maui, Palm Springs and the Bay Area, is interested in providing commercial service at Paine Field. If Allegiant get its wish, Alaska Air Group, which owns Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, will likely follow suit, just to cover its flank. This competition doesn’t mean you’ll be able to catch a flight from the Everett/Mukilteo multiplex to Sin City next month. For one thing, Paine Field doesn’t have a suitable passenger terminal, so Snohomish County, which owns the airport, would have to come up with the money to build one. And, as it happens, the Snohomish County Council and the county executive are among those who aren’t keen on commercializing Paine Field.

Still, if I could catch a convenient flight from Paine Field, I’d do it in a minute. I suspect thousands like me who live north of downtown Seattle would flock to Paine Field. And there’s the rub. People who don’t want commercial traffic at Paine Field fear the airport will get bigger while the value of their homes gets smaller. In their rush to preserve quality of life, they point to a 1978 document known as the Mediated Role Determination (MRD), which suggested that general aviation and commercial aeronautical work, specifically Boeing’s adjacent Everett assembly plant and the huge aircraft maintenance facility now run by Aviation Technical Services (ATS), should continue to be the dominant uses of Paine Field. A 2005 county task force suggested the MRD should be “retired” as a policy document, but, in 2008, the County Council rejected that finding and restated its opposition to commercial air service.

Some actually fear that commercializing Paine Field could squeeze out Boeing and ATS entirely. Boeing’s willingness to build assembly plants outside the Seattle area is an easy incitement to such silly paranoia. In reality, bringing limited commercial service to Paine Field is a wise economic hedge against placing all of the region’s eggs in the manufacturing/maintenance basket.

When it was built by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, Paine Field was actually envisioned as one of 10 new “super airports” across the United States. That prediction never came true, but Paine Field has evolved over the years—from public airfield to Air Force base, and from Air Force base to general aviation airport and manufacturing site. Failing to acknowledge the likelihood of further evolution at Paine Field will leave those who cherish stability at the expense of opportunity on the outside looking in.

 

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

CEO Adviser: Paving the Way to Digital

CEO Adviser: Paving the Way to Digital

How the Northwest’s leading asphalt company is embracing technology.
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“What’s the ROI on software?”

This is the question facing many leaders of traditional mid-market companies. For a well-established family-run business, there is often the temptation to invest in assets that can generate revenue faster in the short term instead of technology upgrades that don’t deliver immediate profit.

When I first met Mike Lee, president of Lakeside Industries, he asked an interesting question: “Are we doing the right things when it comes to technology?” Lee understood that his 600-person asphalt company in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood had to make technology a strategic objective in order to ensure the future of the business.

Here are a few ways Lee showed leadership in making ones and zeroes important in an industry focused on rock and oil.

Establish crystal clarity about how digital can support the overall vision.

Lee had a compelling “why” and vision for the company in place: to make a lasting impact on our community, our relationships and our people, and to be the low-cost supplier that provides an exceptional customer experience. The core values focused on safety, environmental responsibility, quality and profitability. But there was no solid technology vision to realize it, and IT didn’t have a presence at the business table, so Lee made a point to involve the CFO/acting CIO. The beauty of setting a digital vision is in its simplicity — not looking at every solution available, but only those that can further the company’s reason for being. In Lakeside’s case, how could new technologies bring it closer to its employees, its community and its customers? How could software make it improve efficiency, visibility and environmental commitments? When Lee looked closely at his vision, it became clear that technology could help bolster it, but that it couldn’t happen without tech being elevated.

Identify the gaps that technology can fill. 

“There is more to our business than asphalt and paving,” says Lee. “We have to keep up with plant and equipment management, communications, competitors, security and environmental regulations.” Lee met with his CIO and IT directors to determine how technology was going to add value inside and outside the business. The firm developed a digital roadmap that provided clarity around the technology initiatives people were going to work on; for each, it set accountabilities, timelines and goals. They used this roadmap to manage ongoing progress and to determine whether or not the new “shiny technology objects” matched the vision and strategy. The most important initiative was to replace Lakeside’s aging enterprise resource planning system. This would require modernizing processes and technology infrastructure to support collaboration with business management across the company — a broad impact to the business. Another key initiative was improving how it estimated projects and managed customer relationships. This new system would only be successful with buy-in from the people in the field using the software.

Communicate the importance of technology to the management team.

While its employees are part of a family, Lakeside Industries is also a distributed business run by a group of autonomous regional managers who needed to believe in the vision. Lee presented the specifics of the strategy to all managers: The message was “IT can no longer be just a department.” Business and technology leaders — who rarely interfaced — had the opportunity to discuss and debate what was at stake. Their conclusion? Software isn’t a gutsy gamble or a bold bet — it’s table stakes. The result was a set of guiding principles, alignment and excitement for what’s ahead. For the first time in the company’s history, business and technology people now have harmony around a shared digital vision — working together as one to contribute to healthier profitability and improved customer relations. In the end, Lakeside Industries’ road to the future has been paved with much more than good intentions. 

TIM GOGGIN is president of Sappington, a Seattle consulting firm that advises clients on digital change. Reach him at tim.goggin@sappington.co.