For years, the Arkansas aerospace sector was a well-kept secret, but not anymore. More than 180 aerospace/aviation companies — including well-known industry names like Aerojet Rocketdyne, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, and Raytheon Missile Systems — have set up shop in the state. New companies continue to arrive and existing ones are expanding.
To cite a few examples, in 2016 Envoy Air, American Airline’s regional carrier, established a new maintenance facility at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock. The company is investing more than $2 million in the facility, which will bring 60 new high paying jobs to the area. This is Envoy’s second maintenance facility in the state.
The same year, Dassault Falcon Jet, the French luxury aircraft manufacturer, opened a $60 million expansion of its completion and service facility, also at Clinton National. At 1.25 million square feet, the Little Rock center is the company’s largest. Workers install optional avionics and interiors, as well as maintain the company’s upscale Falcon jets.
As is often the case with thriving industry clusters, existing companies attract related businesses. In 2016, JCB Aero announced plans to open a Little Rock facility that will enable it to install high-end interiors for Dassault.
With this level of activity, it is not surprising that Arkansas’ #2 export is aircraft and aircraft-related parts and services.
Why the longstanding interest among aerospace companies in locating in Arkansas? For one thing, Arkansas has geography on its side. It is located equidistant from population centers on the coasts.
Equally important, Arkansas has a sizeable, well-trained aerospace workforce — numbering 10,000 — that includes:
An education infrastructure has grown up around the industry to ensure the skills of this workforce are relevant. For example, Henderson State University in Arkadelphia offers a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in aviation, training students to fly commercial planes, manage airports, or oversee aircraft fleets. The Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges Training Consortium offers programs subjects like aviation maintenance and electronics/aviation technology.
In addition, industry officials point to a highly supportive state government. For instance:
At Entergy Arkansas, we support the growth of the aerospace industry by making sure companies in our Arkansas service area have reliable, affordable electric power. Whether it is a new company or one that is expanding, we make sure that we have the transformers and distribution lines in place to meet their load and reliability requirements.
We also help them make the most of their existing equipment through our Entergy Solutions program. This program includes incentives that encourage customers to install more energy-efficient lighting sources like LEDs, upgrade injection molding and compressed air systems, and switch to variable frequency drive motors.
One characteristic of the Arkansas aerospace industry that accounts for its longevity is that it attracts businesses of all sizes, from small family-owned operations to Fortune 500 companies. Each business has its own unique energy needs. At Entergy Arkansas, our goal is to find the most appropriate way to serve each of them.