By Mike Preston
Aerospace consistently ranks as one of the top exports in Arkansas, growing each year and accounting for more than $1.8 billion in aircrafts and parts. Today, nearly 180 aviation and aerospace-related companies call Arkansas home, employing about 10,000 people in jobs that run the gamut from researchers and engineers to mechanics and machinists.
Because of the impact the industry has on our economy, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas’ “Jobs Governor,” has promoted aerospace and defense growth opportunities throughout the country and around the globe, all the while pursuing a pro-business, pro-growth agenda through regulatory and tax reform. The governor signed into law historic income tax cuts in 2015 and 2017, and most recently a tax-reduction for high earners in February. Those are just some of the reasons why more and more businesses focused on aerospace and defense are looking to Arkansas for supplier network growth and relocation.
The growth in good paying jobs in Arkansas means an increase in quality of life for many Arkansans. Arkansas is enjoying both low unemployment and an increase in wages throughout the state, helped in part by business-friendly policies that benefit aircraft companies and suppliers.
EXISTING AEROSPACE INDUSTRY
New aerospace and aviation businesses looking to expand will find that a strong aerospace and defense base already exists in Arkansas, one that is positioned for growth. This makes the state even more attractive. Dassault Falcon Jet anchors a large business jet cluster in central Arkansas, and Aerojet Rocketdyne recently expanded its rocket motor center in Camden, which is home to several defense contractors well positioned to grow due to recent investment in military infrastructure at the national level.
The aerospace and defense industries have a significant impact within the state, both in the private and public sectors. The Little Rock Air Force Base – one of five military installations across the state – is the fourth-largest employer in Arkansas and has a local economic impact of more than $813 million each year. More than 3,400 indirect jobs have been created as a result of LRAFB, paying an average of $42,000 per year. In addition, approximately 57,000 military retirees and their dependents utilize LRAFB services.
Many of the servicemen and women find that they have enjoyed their time in Arkansas and want to continue living here after they leave the military. To capitalize on that ready labor force and its skills, Hutchinson created a statewide initiative specifically to support and promote the state’s military installations and related economic development interests. The Governor’s Military Affairs Committee – led by Col. (Ret.) Robert Ator – brings together public and private leaders around the state who advocate for Arkansas on a national level to accomplish short- and long-term defense strategies.
EASY ACCESS TO MARKETS
Arkansas understands that location and access to markets is vital for growing companies. Our state’s intermodal transportation network of highways, railways, air routes, waterways and pipelines provides easy access to U.S. and international markets. Major commercial airports are located in central and northwest Arkansas, and six regional airports are located throughout the state. This clears the way for the aerospace industry to get its products across the country and around the world efficiently.
TRAINING AND EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES
As technology in the industry continues to evolve, new opportunities arise in the aerospace and aviation fields, and Arkansas’ network of two- and four-year institutions of higher education have programs in place to ensure our workforce can meet the needs of the ever-changing industry.
Several two-year colleges across the state offer aviation and aerospace programs to produce a continuous supply of aerospace/aviation workers. These programs include airframe and power plant technology, aviation maintenance technician, aviation management, aviation power plant maintenance, aviation technology, and electronics/avionics technology.
In addition, Henderson State University offers a four-year bachelor’s degree in aviation in which graduates are trained to fly commercial planes, manage airports or manage aircraft fleets. The university’s aviation department features 15 aircraft and a state-of-the-art flight simulator.
These programs prepare students to work in high-wage jobs in Arkansas and fill positions that are open and available. As the state’s aerospace industry continues to grow, Arkansas will need even more well-trained workforce to support it. This includes technicians, skilled machinists and craftsmen, all of which are high-paying jobs that will raise the per-capita wage and provide more tax revenue.
The aerospace industry attracts businesses of all sizes, large and small, to provide both direct and indirect jobs to the industry. AEDC and Gov. Hutchinson will continue to make the sector a priority, heavily recruiting businesses to the state. Get ready to watch the industry soar in Arkansas.
Mike Preston is the executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and has served in that role since 2015.