Accelerating the Growth of Utah’s Aerospace and Defense Industry

The recent 2015 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings by PricewaterhouseCoopers placed Utah among the top five states in the nation for aerospace manufacturing attractiveness. 

Such a ranking is golden for the Beehive State, because the report goes to all of the internal players in aerospace and all of the site selectors, says Ben Hart, managing director of business services in the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED).

"Utah's ranking might not receive coverage in The New York Times, but it will be in front of the site selection community. It will be in front of the actual employers themselves. In terms of recruitment, it will be in front of the exact people we want to reach," he adds.

Some people might be surprised at the strength of Utah's aerospace and defense industry. Of course we have Hill Air Force Base, a significant player, but the ecosystem is much deeper than that. The aerospace and defense cluster employs more than 42,000 Utah workers and generates approximately $5.4 billion annually in revenue. The state has deep strengths in maintenance, repair and overhaul; unmanned aircraft systems; advanced composites; and space propulsion.

To determine its rankings, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report looked at a comprehensive group of variables such as regulatory environment, physical infrastructure, transportation funding, supply chain, workforce, tax burden and density of companies in order to determine its rankings.

"To be ranked that high, given those variables, is a big deal," says EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards. "It creates a buzz about Utah and makes it much easier for us to tell the state's story as we attend aerospace-related events, such as AUVSI, SAMPE and many others."

The PricewaterhouseCoopers ranking encapsulates the breadth of work being done in Utah within industry, education and government to grow this valuable industry and create a friendly, magnetic atmosphere for aerospace manufacturers. Growing the workforce is a major priority and initiative for business, government and education leaders. "We need people that can do front line labor, those that can do the more complicated processes like machining and manufacturing and a variety of engineers," says Hart. "Making the aerospace ecosystem successful requires a broad range of skill sets."

Many of the state's school districts and colleges are willing to engage in the workforce solution. To ensure the state as a strong pipeline of workers for all of the aerospace companies, a new initiative called the Utah Aerospace Manufacturing Pathways Project, which is specifically designed to help get more people into the aerospace pipeline for work. What's more, aerospace companies like Boeing, Harris, Hexcel, Janicki, Orbital ATK and Hill Air Force Base have all come to the table with ideas and initiatives that they agree will help fill the pipeline and ultimately create the strongest aerospace manufacturing workforce in the nation.

"We have some exciting opportunities with these major employers teaming up with our educational partners to create a workforce that is custom ready for entry into the marketplace," adds Edwards.

In another effort, the STEM Action Center is working with the aerospace industry and education partners to assist in workforce development. Hart says the STEM Action Center is hosting the National Defense Industry Association's quarterly meeting this month at Weber State University in Ogden in an effort to further cultivate the workforce. "Our STEM Action Center is doing some tremendous things to support workforce growth," he adds. "We have found that when everyone comes together we are able to make some really good things happen. Naturally, everyone has to be aligned – industry and education – but we have some amazing contributing partners and we are making great progress."

Looking at the current workforce and pipeline, one of the greatest needs in Utah's aerospace industry right now is for frontline technicians that can work with composite layups and different machining processes. Engineers are also definitely in demand. Hart says Hill AFB has made no secret that it has a huge need of engineers, especially electrical engineers.

Regarding the industry's density and supply chain in the state, Utah stands out for its leadership in advanced composites. Utah businesses have been innovators in this arena for decades and now, with more airplanes being built out of composite materials, the state is fertile soil for composites companies to grow and expand here in support of the aerospace and defense industry.

"When you think of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that Lockheed Martin is building, and the 787 Dreamliner that Boeing is building, which feature a significant amount of composite technology, Utah is well positioned to be a leader in aerospace developments that rely on composite technology," Hart explains.

As for the state's regulatory environment and tax climate, state leaders from Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature down to local governments have worked hard to eliminate unnecessary and nonsensical regulations. "Reducing the number of regulations lets businesses know we are willing to work as a partner," says Hart. "In all of our efforts – regulatory reform, workforce development and transportation funding, I can't overstate the importance of the state legislature in this process."

All of the accolades Utah continues to receive, including the PricewaterhouseCoopers ranking and last week's no. 1 ranking for economic growth potential by Business Facilities, are creating opportunities for the Beehive State. More industries are taking a look at Utah than ever before and it is all going to portend good things for the state.

"Things are happening now that are going to change the landscape of Utah's economy for generations to come. This really is a very important time in our state's history," he says.