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Aerospace / Defense Is Flying High in Michigan

Collaboration between businesses, state government, DOD leaders, and others is continuing to advance the A&D sector in Michigan.

2023 Auto/Aero Site Guide
Editor's Note: This article was written for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which approved and paid for this post.

Michigan’s vibrant aerospace/defense sector is growing — for example, nearly 4,000 Michigan prime contractors account for $6.6 billion worth of goods and services to the Department of Defense (DoD). About 155,000 defense-related jobs contribute $31 billion to the state GDP every year.

Much of this sector activity is due to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s efforts to stimulate aerospace/defense development through proactive discussions with business, government, and DoD leaders. For example, in 2022, Michigan launched a first-of-its-kind aerial mobility corridor study with Ontario to test the cross-border feasibility of commercial drones. “Cross-border partnership is critical across all dimensions of mobility,” said Whitmer. “This project could lead to faster product deliveries and reduced supply chain disruptions in the future, helping us grow Michigan's economy.”

Other recent successes include the National All Domain Warfighting Center, an advanced training facility for the DoD that hosts critical training for all aspects of multi-domain operations, “including the land, air, maritime, cyber, electronic warfare, and space domains,” said Michael Kroll, deputy public information officer with the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The state also looks for creative ways to use existing assets — for example, Selfridge Air National Guard Base will soon become a center for developing and testing hypersonic materials, a top priority for the DoD.

Innovation and Discovery
The changing character of war is evident in Ukraine, where the use of drones, electronic jamming, and cyber effects make the battlefield much more complicated. The emerging use of artificial intelligence is also speeding up technological advancements in aerospace/defense, including advanced materials.

Michigan’s Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) is a DoD manufacturing innovation institute that focuses on “developing advanced materials and systems engineering that will transform aerospace and defense manufacturing in new ways,” said Joe Steele, vice president of communications and legislative affairs for the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Detroit.

Michigan has the largest concentration of electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineers in the nation and the sixth-largest advanced manufacturing workforce. Lightweight, composite materials are also important in drone construction. The Michigan Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Consortium (MUASC) is a UAS flight and ground test center in Alpena that provides 11,000 square miles of airspace dedicated to R&D, certification, and qualification and systems testing for commercial drones.

Assets Abound
A big reason high-tech manufacturing industries come to Michigan is the skilled talent and the culture of quality that being an automotive leader has brought to the state. For example, Michigan has the largest concentration of electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineers in the nation and the sixth-largest advanced manufacturing workforce.

NASA continues to turn to Michigan for its space expertise. In June 2023 NASA partnered with University of Michigan’s Space Physics Research Laboratory to develop sensitive but highly durable equipment for gathering data from the surface of Venus. Challenges include being able to withstand temperatures as high as 900° F. “NASA counts on us to build really good electronics that can do incredible things in the harshest environments," stated Director Patrick McNally.

The future for Michigan’s aerospace/defense industry is promising, “with strong research, development, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain management opportunities for both large and small companies,” said Kroll.

For Steele, increased collaboration will be the key to Michigan’s continued success in the industry. “Tremendous work is going on in the state and we have a great number of unique assets, but all this work is not necessarily connected,” Steele added. “A key goal is collaborating more with each other, building on our strengths to create win-win situations and attract more investment to our aerospace/defense sector.”


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