...The Gulf Coast region has diverse aerospace activities and should pursue a variety of
aerospace enterprises, from unmanned systems to weapons development, space and more, an
aerospace analyst said during a September summit.
...“This is one of the most varied aerospace cluster regions I’ve ever seen,” said Richard
Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, with everything from unmanned
systems to aerostructures and composite materials. “What you’re good at now is what you
should accentuate.”
...But to prepare for the future growth of the industry, the region should start interesting
children as early as the 5th grade in the range of high-paying jobs available to those trained in
STEM, shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math.
...“The question is always, where’s the workforce coming from, and I can’t stress enough this
idea of you’ve got to have world-class public education in this region and a real strong
concentration on STEM,” said David Trent, site manager of the Airbus Engineering Center in
Mobile, Ala.
...Those were the strongest messages to emerge during the inaugural, region-wide Aerospace
Alliance Summit at Sandestin Beach Resort in Florida. About 140 people, including
representatives from South Mississippi, attended the event. Organizers said they were pleased
with the turnout and plan to make it annual.
...The Aerospace Alliance was formed more than two years ago by Alabama, Louisiana,
Mississippi and Florida’s Great Northwest, a regional economic development group. It was
announced at the summit that the entire state of Florida will now join the group.
...“Florida is proud to be a partner, a full partner,” Florida Lt. Gov., Jennifer Carroll told the
gathering. Gray Swoope, Florida’s secretary of commerce, thanked Florida’s Great Northwest
for representing the state “before we got the message.”
...The summit showcased the four states’ aerospace activities, the health of the world’s
aerospace industry and how it all might impact the activities in the region.
...Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi have aerospace activities throughout the region,
including Huntsville, Ala., the Golden Triangle in east central Mississippi and the Space
Coast of Florida. One cluster is along the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 corridor between South
Louisiana and Northwest Florida, the only one with activities in all four states.
...That cluster’s aerospace footprint includes space activities, aerial weapons development,
military aviator training and testing ranges. It’s where the first F-35 training will be done, and
where portions of unmanned aerial vehicles are built.
...“Nobody can touch us (in) the resources that we have in these four states combined,” said
Swoope. “We have a unique opportunity … to tell our story.”
...Aboulafia said the Gulf Coast has changed in the 28 years since he biked from New Orleans
to Florida. It is certainly more high-tech, he said.
...“I never thought back then that I’d be here with you today talking about improving the
aerospace cluster that’s obviously developed very nicely in this area,” he said. “This would
appear to be a natural place to put work.”
...Aboulafia said that even during the downturn aerospace did well. The Boeing and Airbus
jetliner market alone is a $110 billion enterprise, and with aftermarket and support included it
doubles to $300 billion.
...“That, in a nutshell, is why as a cluster you want to be part of this,” he said, adding that “a
regional approach is absolutely essential.”
...Noting the diverse activities in the region, Aboulafia said there’s no particular industry
segment to pursue, but rather “more of the same.”
...Industry officials, who praised the region’s cost of doing business and business-friendly
attitude, said one of the best ways to help ensure the region’s future role in aerospace is to
prepare the workforce of the future.
...J.R. McDonald, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Northwest Florida operations, said that
when he gave a similar talk in 2009, Lockheed Martin had 146,000 workers. Now it’s down
by 20,000.
...But he also said Lockheed, the nation’s No. 1 defense contractor, has a current and future
need for people with science and technology degrees. It hires 5 percent of every engineering
and technical student that graduates in the United States - about 4,000 to 5,000 per year.
...Lockheed puts a lot of money and effort into supporting science, technology, engineering
and math programs, even down to middle school level to encourage students to enter the field.
...David L. Trent, of Airbus, said the engineering center in Mobile has workers from Alabama,
Mississippi and Florida. He said the Aerospace Alliance should set its sights on helping educate
the future workers in the aerospace industry.
...“We suspect over the next 20 years that there will be a demand for procurement of almost
26,000 new commercial aircraft in the world,” he said, and the region needs to be prepared for
what may come.
...“We were attracted to Mobile and this region because of the infrastructure,” he said. But the
company did bring in many engineers. Trent thinks it’s important to reach children as early
as fifth grade about the value of a STEM.
...Jeanne Edwards, plant leader at GE Aviation in Batesville, Miss., said that of the 344
workers there, 20 percent have degrees. The company recently announced another plant near
Hattiesburg, and will break ground on a plant in Auburn, Ala.
...She said that while much of the company’s revenue is generated from outside the United
States, GE Aviation is putting money into manufacturing jobs in this country.
...“If GE didn’t see the future that we do with our backlog in aviation, we wouldn’t be making
the investment in manufacturing facilities,” she said. By 2012 the Batesville operation will have
475 employees and will have investments of $100 million.
...“That kind of investment hasn’t happened in GE for a long time, at least in the aviation
sector. So I think the growth that we’re anticipating is echoed by our commitment to adding
jobs and building facilities in America.” –
David Tortorano

October 2011
Aerospace growth is coming; STEM is key