It’s not just an old sweet song that keeps the US state of Georgia on the minds of aviation and aerospace experts. It is Delta Airlines, Boeing, Cessna, Gulfstream, Lockheed Martin, Maule, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Tiger, Thrush and Vought, Timco Aviation Services, StandardAero, and the US Air Force that keep the state dynamic.
Add to this Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, headquarters to Delta Airlines (the largest carrier in the world), Georgia’s road and rail networks, the Port of Savannah, which boasts low land, utility and wage costs, and Georgia becomes one of the most productive regions for aerospace activities in the US.
More than 80,000 employees work for more than 500 original equipment manufacturers; maintenance, repair and overhaul companies; and global aircraft fleet operations. Add in Georgia’s total aviation exports topping $3.4bn in 2009, and Georgia ranks eighth among US states for this sector.
“The industry offers high-paying jobs in a cutting-edge field, and is a leader in innovation,” says Georgia’s governor, Sonny Perdue. “It’s the kind of industry that can flourish in Georgia.”
Mr Perdue, a trained pilot, is a big supporter of the sector, and during his tenure he has helped many companies to locate and expand in the state.
Government initiatives, such as predictable and favourable regulation and taxation schemes, have helped enhance the competitiveness of aerospace in Georgia.
Training that works
Georgia’s highly skilled workforce aided by the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, which has invested more than $1m to build an aerospace sector workforce, has given the state a huge advantage over its rivals. Under Georgia’s ‘Quick Start’ programme, the state provides flexible, customised training across a network of 28 technical colleges and universities located around the state and integrates this training with company needs.
“Our customised workforce training is provided at no cost to qualified companies,” says Quick Start director Rodger Brown. “Once Quick Start’s training is completed, the local technical college continues the relationship with the company by creating new industry-related programmes.”
As a result, the Technical College System of Georgia has expanded the number of schools across the state that offer Federal Aviation Administration-certified aerospace degrees, as well as increased enrolment for these specialised certificate programmes.
In addition, aerospace companies in Georgia have access to some of the top technology and research in the world. The Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, is actively involved in aerospace engineering research with well over $30m in funding from key government and industry sponsors. Consequently, Georgia is ranked in the top 10 in the US for aerospace research, and is number one among the south-eastern states.
Giving the industry a boost is the Commission for a New Georgia, which supports aerospace as a strategic industry sector through the Georgia Center of Innovation (COI) for Aerospace. COI connects entrepreneurs and small companies with university-supported research, development and commercial opportunities.
In particular, COI works with companies to identify needs and help them grow.
“We link them with resources such as other Georgia state organisations, research universities, aviation colleges, a technical college system that has aviation coursework, and even other businesses for business-to-business networking,” says Steve Justice, director at COI for Aerospace.
Looking around the state, Savannah provides a rich pool of talented employees for Gulfstream, which manufactures technologically advanced business jets there.
Gulfstream rigorously recruits nationally for skilled talent. Savannah’s appeal as a coastal community also assists in recruiting talent to the area. Gulfstream works closely with local educational institutions, including Savannah Technical College and the Savannah College of Art and Design.
It also benefits from Quick Start. “Since 1997, the Savannah Tech’s aircraft technology training programme, which was customised for Gulfstream, has produced a number of qualified technicians,” says Gulfstream manager Heidi Fedak.
Other pluses are an established airfield located adjacent to the company’s site; Savannah’s transportation networks and seaport; and favourable weather for year-round flight-testing and flight-training.
The company has recently added a 58,026-square-metre service centre to its site, along with an independent fuel farm, a 3958-square-metre paint hangar, and a sales and design centre.
“To meet the need for engineering office space, Gulfstream also opened two R&D centres and a lab facility,” adds Ms Fedak.
Lockheed Martin benefits from the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, one of just three US Air Force air logistics centres in the US. Robins Air Force Base employs more than 25,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel in Georgia, and is a global magnet for aerospace and defence logistics companies.
Lockheed Martin’s military aircraft manufacturing plant in Marietta, for example, is home to the C-130J Super Hercules transporter and the F-22 Raptor air dominance fighter. Here it also performs avionics and engine modernisation programmes for the C-5 Galaxy strategic transporter and the P-3 Orion programme operations, including the new wing production line.
Over the past decade, the company has invested nearly $500m in the plant.
“While these improvements include a number of new-build facilities, most include renovating existing facilities, as well as basic infrastructure replacement and updating,” says Lockheed Martin spokesperson Alison Orne. Some 7600 people are employed at the plant and up to 2000 more are expected to join over the next two to three years.
To fill critical jobs, however, Ms Orne admits that Lockheed Martin sometimes recruits beyond the state and region. It does not use Quick Start for job training, but is currently looking at alternative training methods to help meet all employment needs.
Boeing’s facility in Macon manufactures sub-assemblies for the C-17 Globemaster III airlifter and the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, as well as wing replacement sets for the A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft.
A major employer, Boeing’s Macon location benefits from low utility rates, land costs, taxes and wages.
“State incentives from tax abatements, tax credits for training, Quick Start training and Georgia One funding opportunities are excellent as well,” says Boeing spokesman Jerry A Drelling. “The support we receive from our local and state economic development agencies, the area chamber of commerce and our local, state and federally elected officials is phenomenal.”
Al Stewart, Boeing community relations/government affairs specialist, says: “The team from Quick Start has helped Boeing build the best little aircraft factory in the world.”
Given Georgia’s rich resources for aerospace, it’s no wonder the state is on everyone’s mind. “We see nothing but sunny blue skies for aerospace in our future,” says Mr Perdue.
The cost of this report was underwritten by the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Reporting was carried out independently by fDi Magazine.