story by Michael Tilley
With just a few weeks under his belt as the first executive director of the Arkansas Aerospace Alliance, Chad Causey outlined on Wednesday (Mar. 6) an agenda that includes getting the newly independent group moving forward with more members and increased industry awareness.
The alliance held the 2013 Arkansas Aerospace Summit at the Fort Smith Convention Center, with about 250 attending according to Robin Pelton, a manager with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC).
Causey was named to the post in February and one of his first jobs, he said, is to “make it more of an independent entity” that “works in conjunction with the AEDC to grow in the industry in Arkansas.”
Data from Arkansas officials indicates that the state’s aerospace and aviation industry has about 180 companies, employs more than 9,000 Arkansans and accounts for annual exports of more then $1.8 billion.
The alliance was formalized in November 2012, and was a trade association supported by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. The group now has an interim board with new bylaws and is working to be a fully independent group.
Prior to signing on with the alliance, Causey was a senior associate and counsel at Little Rock-based Noble Strategies. Causey practiced law in Jonesboro and was chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillette, where his work focused heavily on transportation and infrastructure issues. Causey also was the Democratic nominee for the First District Congressional seat in 2010.
Causey said most people think of agriculture as the state’s big exporter rather than aviation. In 2012, the alliance says, Arkansas’ aerospace related exports of $1.8 billion placed the state 12th in the nation.
“This industry is important to this state and we want to make it a not so well-kept secret,” Causey said during an interview after his remarks to the audience.
In addition to growing the alliance membership and increasing awareness of the industry’s economic impact, Causey said advocacy and industry support are alliance goals.
With respect to support, Causey said the industry must work better with public schools and higher education to provide better job training for the industry. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) schools are a “big help” with training, Causey said, but he is eager to incorporate “project-based learning” into a STEM school in which a real-world challenge in the aerospace industry is addressed by students.
Causey said the alliance also has to become an advocate for the industry among the state’s elected lawmakers and constitutional officers. To date, Causey said Gov. Mike Beebe and members of the Arkansas Legislature are supportive of the industry. He wants to use that support to seek, for example, tax reforms that could “be a beneficial impact on not only aerospace, but also on advanced manufacturing.”
BUSINESS TO BUSINESS
The summit included several sessions in which smaller Arkansas-based suppliers to the larger aerospace companies could meet with “the procurement people” in those large companies, Pelton explained.
Companies at the summit included Airbus Americas, BizJet, Dassault Falcon, Lockheed Martin and NASA.
“This gives them (small company owners/managers) a chance to meet one-on-one with the people who can make the (purchasing) decisions,” Pelton said.
On Tuesday, during a pre-summit workshop, a small business training workshop was held that focused on “Teaming & Strategy Development to Capture Federal Contracts.”
GENERAL AVIATION SUPPORT
Causey, and Grant Tennille, AEDC executive director and Wednesday’s luncheon speaker, said airport infrastructure and general aviation support is also part of promoting the industry.
David Krutsch, airport manager at the Rogers Municipal Airport, is not likely to object to such promotion.
Krutsch said the airport, which is home to several corporate jets owned by Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., returned to good growth in 2012.
“Virtually all benchmarks of activity were up,” Krutsch said, adding that fuel sales were up 6%, with around 125 aircraft based at the airport. “We picked up several aircraft last year that are now based there.”
More than 100 people work at the numerous companies with operations at the airport, Krutsch estimated.
He said the airport is also embarking on “a plan for future growth” that includes a focus on “supporting the many small businesses” that use the airport.
“We’re trying to maximize the airport’s economic contribution to the community,” Krutsch said.