The performance of this Southern industry sector of late has earned an official name: the "Southern Aerospace Corridor"
By Mike Randle
This issue celebrates the 20th anniversary of the SB&D 100. Our ranking of states, markets and industry sectors which we cobble together each year clearly shows what the economic development trends are, and who is winning the war in economic development in the American South. Since this is the 20th SB&D 100, we are also including (beginning on page 62) the top performing markets in the region over those 20 years. Remember that we only cover the South. Other economic development media cover the U.S., North America and the world. Not SB&D. We only cover the South, the fourth largest economy in the world.
I had never seen or heard the moniker "Southern Automotive Corridor" (SAC) until we deemed the South's automotive industry that back in 1993. Later, when the Internet was in its infancy, we launched SouthernAutoCorridor.com, the first and only website (to this day) dedicated to keeping up with all that is happening in the SAC. Over the past three decades, no region in the U.S. has seen its automotive sector grow faster than the South's.
There is another industry that is following the automotive sector's path to the South, and that's aerospace. In fact, when Airbus' final assembly facility opens in Mobile, Ala., next year, it will join Boeing's 787 plants in North Charleston as one of only three places in the U.S. where final assembly of large commercial jet aircraft is done. The other place, of course, is the Puget Sound in Washington.
While Airbus and Boeing are the headliners with their new facilities that assemble the A320 and 787 commercial jetliners respectively, there is so much growth in the aerospace sector in the South that it is difficult to keep up with it.
A recent aerospace project that really stands out is Northrop Grumman's announcement in the spring quarter that it will invest $500 million and hire 1,800 at the Melbourne, Fla., airport to design and build the next generation of long-range bombers if it wins the project over a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said in the St. Augustine Record in May, "This is huge. The development and assembly of America's long-range strike aircraft in Melbourne is a new beginning for the Space Coast."
In an article in Florida Today, Nelson said that the Air Force is expected to award the contract for its new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) within a year. He also said, "I believe that Northrop Grumman has the leg up because they are the builders of the B2 Bat Wing Stealth Bomber."
It should also be noted that Northrop Grumman relocated its headquarters from Los Angeles to Northern Virginia and to the South in 2010. Ring a bell? It should. Nissan relocated its North American headquarters from Southern California to Nashville a few years ago and in the spring quarter Toyota announced it is moving its headquarters from Torrance, Calif., to Texas by 2017. Yes, the aerospace industry is simply copying what the automotive industry has done in the South over the past 25 years.
Northrop is particularly active in Florida. It recently dedicated its Aircraft Integration Center of Excellence in St. Augustine, and that $102 million facility will house 400 workers. The company broke ground on a similar facility in Melbourne that we presume will assist the long-range bomber plant.
And like the automotive industry, the aerospace sector is located throughout the region. The advantage the South has -- aerospace is growing faster in the South than any other region -- is that its massive automotive supply chain can also provide goods and parts to companies in aerospace.
Here is just a sampling of aerospace activity in the South:
- HondaJet is making its light business jets in Greensboro, N.C.
- Gulfstream has continued to grow its presence in Savannah where it builds corporate jets.
- Dassault's facility at the Little Rock Airport is the main Completion Center for all Falcon jets worldwide.
- United Launch Alliances missiles are made in Decatur, Ala.
- Embraer makes executive jets in Melbourne, Fla.
- F-35 jets are made by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth and in Marietta, Ga.
- GE Aviation has plants all over the South.
- Pratt & Whitney builds aircraft engines in Florida and Rolls-Royce does the same in Virginia.
- Bell Helicopter just announced a new plant in Lafayette, La.
- Airbus Helicopters just celebrated the completion of its 300th Lakota helicopter in Columbus, Miss.
- It looks like SpaceX has chosen Brownsville, Texas for its new Launchpad.
- XCOR Aerospace recently chose Midland, Texas for its R&D headquarters.
We could go on and on writing about the incredible amount of activity in the aerospace sector in the South. And we will in the fall quarter when we publish a bonus edition on aerospace in the South. Yes, the aerospace industry has earned a name. Welcome to the Southern Aerospace Corridor.