Aerospace Focuses on Maintenance and Niche Business For Growth
Economic growth in the aerospace industry has been lukewarm, but companies large and small are taking advantage of middling advances to propel expansion.
Craig Guillot (June/July 10)
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Hubs Hold Steady
The aerospace sector has traditionally been rooted in markets that are home to Air Force bases. In San Antonio, aerospace is a $4 billion industry, according to Mario Hernandez, president of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. The sector has been the backbone of the local economy for decades and employs more than 10,000 people. Following the closure of two Air Force bases, San Antonio transferred its infrastructure and work force to the aerospace industry through the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. Kelly and Brooks Air Force bases are now home to thriving aerospace companies that employ thousands of workers.
Dubbed the Port of San Antonio, Kelly Air Force Base was transformed into an aerospace complex that features a 1,900-acre site with integrated air, rail, and highway. It has experienced great success in the past year, and aerospace leaders Lockheed Martin, Boeing, StandardAero, and Pratt & Whitney occupy more than nine million square feet of industrial space there. The Air Force selected the site as the home of its 24th Air Force cyber command in 2009. It is slated to have a $1 billion budget, create up to 400 military and civilian jobs, and have a payroll of more than $40 million.
"The tremendous investments that the Air Force has put in San Antonio over the years has made us [well suited] for aerospace. We were able to use that infrastructure and work force to attract the private sector," Hernandez says.
While San Antonio has faced hurdles over the years, Hernandez describes the aerospace industry as "consistent," even in today's economic climate. The increased workload at Boeing's aviation center, the lengthening of a highway to the area, and wins such as a $36 million StandardAero contract have all been positive signs.
"Aerospace has held pretty steady here since 2000 and it really hasn't grown that much. Simply holding your own is not a bad thing these days," Hernandez says.
On the West Coast, Spokane, Washington has experienced tremendous growth in the aerospace sector. More than 60 aerospace manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers employ more than 8,100 workers in Spokane and the Inland Northwest. The companies have a combined payroll of $324 million.
Construction has begun at the Spokane International Airport on a new 41,000-square-foot consolidated aircraft maintenance and painting hangar. Associated Painters, Inc. signed a 20-year lease on the facility that can accommodate two Boeing 737-900 aircrafts. The project will attract approximately 266 jobs.
In the past two years, the area has worked to attract private aerospace companies with incentives, says Todd Woodard, director of marketing and public relations for the Spokane International Airport. Funding for the Associated Painters facility included $4 million from the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB), $2 million from the airport, and $300,000 from the state's Economic Development Strategic Reserve Account. And this project is only one sign of what could come for a location with the right infrastructure, work force, and communication.
"When we opened up another hangar and maintenance company here about three years ago, we asked everyone what they wanted and they said it was a paint facility," Woodard says.