Manufacturing in general has lost a significant number of jobs in recent years in Mississippi, but one category — military manufacturing — is actually showing gains even during the current economic recession.
“At the moment the biggest thing going against the trend is the defense industry,” said Mark Leggett, director of government affairs for the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. “Anything related to defense is doing well. Ingalls is working on a new class of destroyers that the Navy is going to want, the DDX. They hope to win that. The state just approved some bond money for them to upgrade the shipyard and be able to handle the work. Another company that is doing well benefiting from the trend is Raytheon in Madison County. And we just had an announcement that an apparel manufacturer is opening in Columbus to make military uniforms. We have been losing apparel jobs for 10 years.”
Ingalls, now part of defense giant Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, was one of the first Balance Agriculture With Industry projects back in the late 1930s. When the shipyard opened, it was one of the first incentive industrial development programs in the country, Leggett said.
“We’re still at it,” Leggett said. “Today military manufacturing is still a strong part of the state’s economy.”
Northrop Grumman Ship Systems represents the largest private employer in the state, employing about 11,000 on the Coast. Most are in Pascagoula, with about 700 located in Gulfport. There are 50 employees in Ocean Springs who are part of another sector of the company, Electronic Systems.
“They design, integrate and test ship electronic systems,” said Bob Bishop, spokesman for Northrop Grumman. “And then we have about 35 employees at the Stennis Space Center who work for our Information Technology Sector. We also have 20 IT employees at Keesler working on computer services.”
Recently this huge sigh of relief rippled through the Coast economy when unions approved a new contract with Northrop Grumman. Local merchants had reported that when it looked like a strike might occur, local spending was curtailed by people concerned about the impact. Consumer confidence and spending was expected to return after the contracts were approved.
It isn’t known the total number of military manufacturers in the state. The Mississippi Development Authority has developed a list of about 50 firms in the state that are defense related, but there are many more companies involved in one facet or another of the work that aren’t listed.
One of the companies listed is Planning Systems Inc., a high-tech company in Long Beach which specializes in building prototypes of land mine detection systems. Plans call for the company’s Forward Looking Ground Penetrating Synthetic Aperture Radar system to eventually be mounted on the front of a Humvee or similar military vehicle. The company recently took its latest development in a $3-million land mine detection system to Virginia for testing in a simulated minefield.
Other South Mississippi military operations range from General Dynamics Armament Systems plant in McHenry, which produces subassembly parts for the Hydra 70 rockets used on military aircraft, to BAE systems Inc. in Hattiesburg, which provides testing, assembly and production of lightweight howitzers.
Even smaller companies on the Coast have seen increased business as a result of mobilizations for the Middle East. Monograms Etc. in Gulfport reports being flooded with orders to sew on nametags and rank insignias on military uniforms for members of the military headed overseas.
In Central Mississippi, Eaton Aerospace makes hydraulic pumps and motors for military aerospace applications at a plant in Jackson. And in the Golden Triangle area, American Eurocopter Corp., a company that holds 57% of the world market share for new helicopters, is building a manufacturing facility on a 40-acre site with taxiway access at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
Eurocopter is a division of European Aeronautic Defense & Space Company (EADS), the second largest aerospace firm in the world. One of American Eurocopter’s newest customers is the U.S. Border Patrol, which recently signed a contract to buy 13 choppers.
“It is a top priority to increase our industrial presence and work force in the U.S, particularly in the areas of homeland security and defense,” says Ralph Crosby, chairman and CEO of EADS North America. “Placement of this facility is an important strategic move and a positive step forward for EADS. The Golden Triangle area of Mississippi provides a highly competitive operating location.”
Elsewhere in the state Boeing in Meridian has expanded, beefing up its workforce. The facility there represents a trend, says the MMA’s Leggett.
“In a way it is manufacturing and in a way it is not,” Leggett said. “It is part manufacturing and part service. Once you make the product you continue to maintain it for your customer. Boeing is maintaining and keeping up the aircraft they build to train pilots in Meridian. They have beefed up their workforce there.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.