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Aerospace business is big for Ohio
February 11, 2011
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  • By Mike Boyer

    January 30, 2011

    President Barack Obama could have been speaking about Ohio’s aerospace industry when he said in his State of the Union address: the nation is facing a “Sputnik moment.”

    More than a century after Dayton’s Wright brothers gave birth to flight, innovation is driving employment for more than 100,000 Ohioans directly involved in all facets of aviation.

    Now, the No. 2 technical industry in Ohio needs a new coordinated, statewide focus to counter growing international competition, budget cuts and shifting priorities. That’s the central conclusion of a year-long analysis by 75 industry leaders from across the state.

    “It’s incredibly important we don’t take our aerospace industry for granted,” says Gary Conley, president of Bond Hill-based TechSolve, an industry consulting center. “Every other country in the world wants what we have.”

    Conley is part of the Ohio Aerospace and Business Aviation Advisory Council, created under former Gov. Ted Strickland and preparing to present its findings to new Gov. John Kasich.

    Building on the state’s aviation heritage and expertise, the panel concluded that Ohio needs to pursue emerging markets such as unmanned systems while continuing to invest in aviation infrastructure, advanced materials and high-skill worker training.

    Council member Charles Dutch, director of Boeing Co.’s electronic guidance and repair center, which employs 518 workers east of Columbus, says panel members all “came away surprised at the breadth and depth of the capabilities we have in Ohio.”

    But, he adds, “a lot of other states do a better job of coordinating the aerospace industry.”

    Obama’s call for a “Sputnik moment” to mobilize the nation’s education, technology and investment for the future also could accelerate aerospace research and development in Ohio, industry leaders say.

    “Anything the federal government does in terms of a national goal in that regard will benefit Ohio,” Conley says.

    A growing market

    Only motor-vehicle manufacturing employs more highly skilled workers than aerospace, the panel says.

    It estimated that an Ohio aerospace worker earns an average $76,600 a year compared to $46,300 for manufacturing as a whole.

    “It has everything you want in an industry,” Conley says. “It’s a growing market, and it pays well.”

    GE Aviation, based in Evendale, is the world’s largest jet engine maker and the state’s largest exporter. It employs 8,000 in Ohio, most of them at the sprawling local complex.

    Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton is Ohio’s largest single aerospace employer with more than 27,000 workers. It’s a center for Air Force aerospace systems, material procurement and a main research lab.

    Cleveland’s NASA Glenn Research Center has one-of-a kind testing and research capabilities in propulsion and space systems. It employs 1,600.

    The state also counts a strong university network that includes the University of Cincinnati, which offers advanced degrees in aerospace technology and engineering. Leading aerospace component makers include Goodrich Corp., Parker-Hannifin Corp. and Eaton Corp.

    European aircraft-maker Airbus says it buys more than $4 billion of its $10 billion in U.S. purchases annually from Ohio companies. The other leading aircraft-maker, Boeing Co., says Ohio represents its second largest supplier base approaching $5 billion annually.

    Yet challenges are growing.

    Global competition

    Aerospace development and manufacturing are increasingly global – in many ways, an opportunity.

    China, for example, “is going to need tens of thousands of airline jets, and we have the opportunity to provide parts for those here in Ohio,” says Michael Heil, president of the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland.

    But globalization also poses potential competition as other nations develop their own aerospace infrastructures.

    Canada, for example, “is doing a phenomenal job with tax policy and research and development investing,” says Dale Carlson, manager of advanced engine systems at GE Aviation. He says creation of one research and development job in Canada generates an 18 percent tax credit for the job creator for the life of that job.

    One of Ohio’s key aerospace opportunities, identified by the panel, is claiming the emerging market for unmanned systems. That includes not just drones used by the U.S. military to pursue al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but new commercial applications as well.

    Ultimately, unmanned, controlled devices are expected to have a wide array of applications from farm crop forecasting to border security in the years ahead. The panel says unmanned systems currently represents a $4.9 billion market, expected to grow to $11.5 billion by 2019.

    Unmanned systems are a key area of expertise at Wright-Pat. The state already has played a strong role in sensor technology development, propulsion systems and composite structures. “Those are all things you need for unmanned vehicles,” Conley says.

    Consideration also is being given to testing unmanned systems at DHL’s former Wilmington