Aviation and aerospace manufacturing is soaring in Kentucky, and state officials are taking steps to ensure the sky is the limit for the booming industry.
Gov. Matt Bevin, Cabinet for Economic Development Sec. Terry Gill and other state officials recently joined representatives from One East Kentucky, Ashland Alliance and AEP Kentucky Power to attend the 52nd International Paris Air Show in France. Executives from Eastern Kentucky’s recently announced aerospace and automotive aluminum supplier, Braidy Industries, also attended, including Craig Bouchard, the company’s founder and CEO. The group met with industry leaders from around the globe to discuss new business and expansion opportunities in the commonwealth.
The event, first held in 1909, is the world’s largest aerospace event and the premier opportunity for representatives from the industry to pursue business deals, showcase new technology and develop industrial partnerships.
The event included more than 2,300 exhibitors with more than 130 aircraft on display.
“It absolutely exceeded my expectations,” said Chuck Sexton, president and CEO of One East Kentucky. “I knew it was a big show, but it’s still mind-boggling once you get there. It was really a great show, and seeing some of the new things that are coming in the aerospace sector was pretty tremendous as well.”
In Kentucky, aerospace has claimed its place among the primary industries contributing to the growth of the state’s economy, and continues to be the commonwealth’s top export annually. Sec. Gill said the state must take the necessary steps to ensure that growth continues.
“Aerospace has been one of the fastest growing industries in Kentucky for several years now, and it is important we use every opportunity to build upon that success,” Sec. Gill said. “The Paris Air Show provides the greatest opportunity to do just that. The ability to meet in person with aerospace executives from around the world and discuss Kentucky’s many advantages will go a long way toward developing new relationships and strengthening those we have already established.”
The state’s aerospace prowess continues to strengthen with an increased focus on the industry in Eastern Kentucky. An 11-county region encompassed by both One East Kentucky and Ashland Alliance recently earned AEROready™ certification following four-month studies by Common Sense Economic Development and third-party consultant Tucson Atlantic Consulting. The designations, which indicate to potential employers that the area has the necessary workforce and infrastructure in place to support the industry, paved the way for meetings with company executives in Paris to attract new business to the region.
The April announcement of Braidy Industries’ $1.3 billion investment for the construction of an aluminum rolling mill in Greenup County also proved to have an immediate positive impact, as Bouchard assisted the delegation to arrange meetings with prospective companies at the event. Sexton spoke on the opportunities that the air show provides.
“What you end up having is all these company executives available in one area over a four-day period,” he said. “When you have the right strategy, the right team and the right marketing firm, and of course, when you have the governor of your state willing to attend the meetings, you’re able to get face-to-face time with the top-level executives from some of these companies.”
AEROready™ certification serves as evidence that Eastern Kentucky already has the necessary assets to support the aerospace industry, but as Sexton acknowledged, the job of local and state economic development leaders will be to present those assets in a way that will make the commonwealth the first stop in the site selection process.
To do that, Kentucky must continue to attract aerospace suppliers and clients to the area and combine that burgeoning industry presence with the region’s unparalleled workforce and logistical advantages. Eastern Kentucky’s place between two hubs of aerospace manufacturing provides the opportunity to do just that.
“We’re in the center of this new aerospace corridor that’s forming,” Sexton said. “Boeing has been making a lot of investments in South Carolina, and in Ohio – from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base down I-75 into Dayton, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky – there’s an established corridor of aerospace. Connecting those two corridors is Eastern Kentucky, where we have this concentration of available workforce.”
Since the conclusion of the Paris Air Show, and in the weeks ahead, local and state economic development leaders will remain in contact with prospective companies to encourage further discussion and even site visits. They will have at their disposal evidence of an already strong and rapidly growing aerospace industry.
Kentucky’s aviation and aerospace sector currently employs nearly 17,000 people at nearly 80 manufacturing, service and technology-related facilities. Those include advanced manufacturers of carbon brakes, jet engines and turbines, cockpit avionics, wiring and control systems, micro satellites, software development, data analytics, advanced materials R&D, micro-gravity research services, industry logistics and support services and missile defense system manufacturing and overhauling.
The industry produces more exports than any other in Kentucky, with more than $10.8 billion in products shipped abroad in 2016. Export numbers have remained at a record level thus far in 2017, with $2.9 billion in aerospace products exported in the year’s first quarter, a 9.4-percent increase over the same period a year ago.
For more on the Paris Air Show, visit www.siae.fr/en
To learn more about the aerospace industry in Kentucky, visit www.thinkkentucky.com/aerospace.