|Summit sees good news for region
The fifth aerospace summit returned to the I-10 corridor in November and heard an
upbeat message about the future of aviation for the growing four-state region...
GULFPORT, Miss. -- If there was one overall message that resonated during last
month’s summit, it was that aerospace growth is in the cards for all four members of
the Aerospace Alliance.
The fifth annual Aerospace Alliance summit Nov. 3-4 held at the Island View attracted
about 130 economic development, business and academic leaders from Alabama,
Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to discuss an industry they’ve all targeted.
“Navigating Change: How Will World Decisions Impact the Aerospace Industry?” was
the title of this year’s summit. Speakers and panelists looked at factors shaping the
industry, including global economic influences, opportunities around innovation, and
geopolitical and defense issues.
The industry-focused summit attracts a relatively small but influential group of leading
aerospace companies, economic development professionals, and elected officials
from communities that target aerospace growth. It also draws university and
workforce professionals with programs specializing in the aerospace and aviation
The summit kicked off with a dinner Thursday evening with the guest speaker former
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who discussed the then-upcoming presidential
election. He did not predict Trump would win, but did say that with two-thirds of
Americans thinking the country is heading in the wrong direction, it would be a
change election - and Hillary Clinton did not represent change but more of the same.
He also said that if Republicans control the House and Senate the aerospace
industry and perhaps energy would be the biggest to benefit.
Before introducing Barbour, Neal Wade, chairman of the 8-year-old Aerospace
Alliance, said the four states rank as the third largest aerospace corridor in the world.
He said that says a lot about the depth the breadth of the aerospace and defense
industry in the four states.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president and aerospace analysis with The Teal Group, said
the aerospace industry is still the strongest industry on the planet despite the
correction that he believes looms in the future. He sees the four-state aerospace
region and I-10 region as a hot spot for aerospace.
“It’s extremely well-positioned for growth. There’s a lot of political power in the region
and it’s a pretty good area to do business,” he said in a post-summit talk with the Gulf
Coast Reporters’ League. Aboulafia said one of the real bright spots for the region is
the Airbus A320 series plant in Mobile.
“It’s very important because, first of all, that’s the biggest single aerospace program
in the world in terms of dollars, both historically and moving forward, and volume is
extremely important in this business.”
He also said plants like the Airbus facility is a good idea should the world move
toward a protectionist landscape, a possibility that looms larger with the British exit
from the European Union and the election of Donald Trump.
“Then it makes sense for foreign manufacturers to put facilities on U.S. soil and
frankly, there are advantages to working with a politically well-connected area,” he
Wade said Aboulafia gave a very upbeat presentation.
“I thought he was very optimistic in his look at the four states and the Southeast. That
was my takeaway. It was an excellent presentation and gave us a good view of what
were can look to grow, said Wade.
Glenn McCullough Jr., executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority,
said the event highlighted that there are great opportunities for the four states.
“Mississippi is a frontrunner in the aerospace industry, with global leaders such as
Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, Northrop Grumman and Airbus employing thousands of
Mississippians throughout the state,” McCullough told the Gulf Coast Reporters
League in an email after the summit.
“Our participation in the 2016 Aerospace Alliance summit allowed us to further
strengthen the state’s ties with neighboring Southeastern states so we can continue
working together to position the region as the best location in the world for
aerospace companies to invest and create new career opportunities.”
Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, said the region is
building an important corridor, noting that among other things the shared “NASA
DNA” provides unique advantages. In addition to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi
and Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, the four states also have major NASA
facilities in Huntsville, Ala., and Florida’s Space Coast.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in his welcoming said virtually every commercial plane in
the world has at least one part made in Mississippi, which has 120 aerospace sector
companies, including some of the biggest names in the industry. He also said the
four-state region is where the growth of the industry is going to be.
“We in Mississippi are honored to team with these three great states. Alabama,
Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, as you already heard, this is really the epicenter
The public/private Aerospace Alliance was formed in 2009. It originally included
Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and a regional group, Florida’s Great Northwest. At
the first summit in 2011 it was announced that the state of Florida would join.
Its original purpose was to join forces to help secure the aerial tanker program for
Mobile. But at the time it was established leaders said it would remain long-term and
would focus on activities that would promote the region and the aerospace sector.
The most high-profile activity of the Alliance are the pre-event galas held before the
air shows in London and Paris. Closer to home, the annual summits are the most
The inaugural meeting was at Sandestin Resort in Miramar Beach, Fla., in
September 2011. Subsequent summits were held in New Orleans in October 2012,
Huntsville, Ala., in October 2013, and Daytona Beach, Fla., in April 2015, the only
time it was held in the spring. Alabama is scheduled to host the 2017 summit.
The 2016 event was held in the Mississippi coastal city known as the financial and
transportation center of South Mississippi.
Gulfport was chosen in part because it is one of the more central locations for the
four-state I-10 aerospace region. The corridor is the one region where all four states
have a presence.
On the eastern end in Jackson County Northrop Grumman builds the central
fuselage for all variants of the unmanned Global Hawk, and also does final assembly
of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter.
To the west of Gulfport is John C. Stennis Space Center, NASA’s rocket engine test
facility that’s also used by commercial companies.
Gulfport itself is home to one of the region’s commercial airports, Gulfport-Biloxi
International Airport, which also hosts the Air National Guard Combat Readiness
Training Center, one of four operated by the Air National Guard. It provides the
military with a year-round training environment, including airspace and ranges.
In any given year, thousands of pilots come to Gulfport to engage in mock combat
and hone their skills. It’s an airborne schoolhouse equipped with a state-of-the-art,
multimillion-dollar combat training system that keeps track of every move.
Gulfport is also part of the larger Gulf Coast aerospace corridor that spans a four-
state region along Interstate 10. It includes NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New
Orleans, the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Ala., and multiple aviation-
focused military bases, including the base that develops aerial weapons for the U.S.
The region is also a top military pilot training location. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.,
trains F-35 pilots and maintainers, and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., trains F-22
pilots and hosts an operational squadron.
Navy, Marine and Coast Guard pilots are trained in part at Naval Air Station
Pensacola and Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla. Army helicopter pilots are training
at Fort Rucker, Ala., just across the state line near Dothan, Ala., and the Coast
Guard a training facility in Mobile transitions pilots to the aircraft they will be using.
There was at least one participant, Michael Olivier, director general of C100
Louisiana, who thinks the Alliance could be a model for the region.
“The takeaway for me was the consistency of the four states maintaining their
regional marketing posture over this many years. The duration of this marketing
cartel underscores the value these states place on this regional marketing approach,
one that I think should be applied to other targeted business/industry sectors.
“These same Gulf states should target the Mexican Gulf States in the same manner
due to the many synergies shared by these Mexican and American States bordering
the Gulf of Mexico.”
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