Aerospace is key for E.V. economic development - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Aerospace is key for E.V. economic development

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Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2010 5:16 pm | Updated: 3:25 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The topic was nuclear and solar energy last week as a group of Arizona leaders met with the Wall Street Journal during a Grand Canyon state lobbying blitz on the nation’s capital.

When a journalist asked how energy generation fit into the state’s overall economic development strategy, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith saw an opportunity and he took it.

You see, the state of Arizona doesn’t have an overall economic development strategy and the confused pause that the question engendered gave Smith the opportunity to invent one on the fly.

No, it wasn’t the five Cs that Arizona school children once learned about: Cotton, Cattle, Citrus, Copper and Climate.

No disrespect to the past; but the five Cs won’t drive Arizona’s future.

Rather, the mayor said he told the Wall Street Journal that Arizona’s economic development strategy was based on four economic drivers: health, energy, aerospace and tourism.

You might notice a close resemblance to the economic development strategy Smith had identified for Mesa over a year ago: health, education, aerospace and tourism. The acronym, HEAT, works for both.

The mayor may have winged it, but his timing couldn’t have been better.

State government has been mired in the margins for years while Arizona’s city-states have battled among themselves for economic advantage.

But the Great Recession has pushed state leaders to take job growth and economic development seriously.

Upon her return from the same D.C. trip, Gov. Jan Brewer announced that she is creating a new state economic development authority. According to, the authority will focus on attracting more aerospace, solar, defense and other high-wage jobs to Arizona.

Sounds like we’re getting close to a mind meld.

High on both Smith’s and Brewer’s lists is aerospace, and no economic sector is more important to the East Valley.

Aerospace encompasses Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Chandler Airpark and Falcon Field.

It includes rockets developed by Orbital Sciences in Chandler and satellites the company builds in Gilbert.

It includes the Boeing Apache helicopter plant in Mesa and the Lockheed Martin plant in Gilbert.

Just last month Lockheed Martin received a U.S. Army contract worth up to $36.8 million for its work on the “advanced electro-optical fire control systems” that go into the AH-64D Apache.

It’s big business in the East Valley. The East Valley Partnership estimates the sector generates $3.5 billion a year in our side of the Valley alone.

Smith said that aerospace is no longer sexy in Washington D.C., perhaps clouding its future growth prospects.

But after years of taking the aerospace industry for granted, political leadership in Arizona has taken a second look at what we’ve got and what we could lose and the sap is running again.

Chocolates and roses are on the way.

A little over a year ago, academic, political and business leaders came together to create something called the Arizona Aerospace Institute.

The institute is to be located in east Mesa and, in part, is to create private and educational partnerships that will “build a base of defense and aviation firms around the state.”

While that initiative simmers, the East Valley Partnership and the Mesa Chamber of Commerce are making plans to create the “East Valley Aviation and Aerospace Alliance.”

The alliance’s quest is to “make the East Valley the aviation and Aerospace center of excellence in the West.”

While some assemble coalitions for future action on the aerospace industry, the city of Mesa on Monday is scheduled to take immediate action on one piece of the East Valley aerospace puzzle.

The Air Force Research Lab, the last vestige of the Air Force’s presence at what was once called Williams Air Force Base, will be moved to Ohio.

The council will create a redevelopment authority that in turn will make a pitch for the laboratory building and grounds.

The city sees the facility as having future aerospace uses and perhaps a home for many of the PhDs, scientists and engineers who now work in the Air Force lab.

“We’ve got momentum, because we realize how important it (aerospace) is,” said Smith.

Jim Ripley is former executive editor of the Tribune. Contact him at

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