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Aeronautics, aviation developments making an impact on communities around the state.

Mississippi soaring with international attention

Every jetliner in the world has at least one hydraulic component designed and manufactured in Mississippi. That is a fact that you might expect to see in the Mississippi Business Journal. But what about in a publication in Toulouse, France?

The Web site the City of Toulouse uses to highlight its development of geospatial technologies currently is featuring a comprehensive article about the development of the aviation and aerospace industry in Mississippi.

Greg Hinkebein, president and CEO of the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MSET) at Stennis Space Center, recently met with officials involved in geospatial technologies in Toulouse. But he never expected such a long, detailed article about the growth of aviation and aeronautics companies in Mississippi.

The article headlined, “Toulouse and Mississippi: a promising partnership agreement in the geospatial field,” said: “What do Toulouse, the headquarters of Galileo (the European counterpart to GPS), and Mississippi, home to the NASA Stennis Space Center, have in common besides a hot, sunny climate and southern hospitality? More than you might think including a serious commitment to making their expanding geo-spatial industries an economic development priority for the coming years with a promising partnership agreement to build on.”

The article touts Mississippi’s “quiet revolution” from agriculture to technological innovation.

“We have now reached the stage where the international community is looking toward Mississippi in the growth of aerospace and geospatial technologies, and that gives us international recognition in that field,” Hinkebein said.

There are now about 28 companies employing a total of 150 people under the umbrella of the MSET, a non-profit corporation funded by NASA, the State of Mississippi and private companies. MSET’s primary focus is geospatial technologies, which uses data from satellites and high-altitude aircraft for a variety of commercial purposes ranging from land use planning to precision agriculture.

The promise of the state’s geospatial industry cluster can be seen coming out of the ground at the Stennis Technology Park, a private development located adjacent to the Stennis International Airport on Interstate 10 in Hancock County. A new 30,000-square-foot building, the first on the site, is almost complete.

“This shows the growth of this industry here at Stennis because that building was built to house the MSET companies as they move out of Stennis,” Hinkebein said. “It is a 30,000-square-foot building with three floors. We feel like if private investors put that much in a facility, they also see the growth from these businesses.”

While Stennis Space Center has long dominated the aerospace cluster in Mississippi, the Golden Triangle has come on stronger than anyone probably imagined a decade ago. The Eurocopter facility in Columbus has received a $3-billion contract from the U.S. Army to supply up to 352 helicopters to the U.S. Army over the next 10 years. The development, the largest contract in the history of Eurocopter for one type of aircraft, is expected to increase employment by 200 at Eurocopter in Columbus.

Another significant aerospace development is also going in at Columbus. Aurora Flight Sciences is building a $3-million, 20,000-square-foot factory to produce the Orion High Altitude Long Loiter (HALL), an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

“We now have national and international attention due to the success of Eurocopter,” said Dr. Anthony Vizzini, Bill and Carolyn Cobb Chair and head of aerospace engineering at Mississippi State University. “Competitively, we are quite strong. Companies who have relocated here have found the quality of our workforce is first rate. The workforce environment is excellent. The work ethic is excellent.”
Aurora Flights Sciences is graduating from incubator status at the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at MSU, moving into quarters at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport. Vizzini said the success of Aurora has been followed by a decision by GE Aviation to locate at the incubator at MSU.

“Those are the kinds of messages that go out to the entire aerospace community,” Vizzini said. “When Columbus, Starkville and West Point are repeatedly in the press with these kinds of developments, it makes people look and see what is available here. The quality of life is excellent. I moved down here three years ago and enjoy it immensely. People are probably one of the strongest points. It is a phenomenal amount of growth we have experienced in the past few years. It is going to continue. It is an explosion.”

Chris L. Marsh, chief operations officer, Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, said the aviation and defense industry developing as it has in the Golden Triangle solidifies the Link’s mission to have a workforce that believes in defending America’s future.

Marsh said with Columbus Air Force Base, the expansion for Eurocopter, the new location of Aurora Flight Sciences to the airport and the $880-million SeverCorr project, there has been a major economic boom.

“We are really seeing a ripple effect from working those projects,” Marsh said. “These are very high-tech industries.”

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is also working to build upon successes in the aeronautics and aerospace industries.
“Aviation and aerospace is a key target of ours not just in Jackson County, but all along the coastal region,” said George Freeland, executive director, Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.

Freeland and his counterparts in Harrison and Hancock counties, Larry Barnett and Hal Walters, recently attended the Farnborough International Air Show held every two years in Farnborough, England. The Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development participated in the show this year, producing a 52-page, full-color publication detailing the region’s strengths in aeronautics and aviation.

“We were extraordinarily well received, and I came away with a feeling of real validation that Jackson County and the Mississippi Gulf Coast region have truly arrived in the aviation-aerospace sector,” Freeland said. “We have been preparing for this event for two years now. It is considered the world’s premier aerospace exhibition. We had contact with some of the largest, most impactful aerospace and aviation technology companies in the world.

“Before we went over, we had prearranged meetings with representatives of these companies so they had an opportunity to do their research on us and determine whether or not a relationship with us would benefit their company’s strategic plans. When we got there and had prearranged meetings, that individual company had arrived at the conclusion there was something there in South Mississippi. There is something to be said for the argument that we are well positioned to accommodate a broad range of aerospace industries.”

The Mississippi Gulf Coast has long been a player with the presence of Stennis Space Center; every time the Space Shuttle goes up, its engines have been tested there. In April of this year, the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center opened a 101,000-square-foot, $13-million facility at the Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point to be used for the manufacturing and final assembly of the Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and the Fire Scout low altitude UAV.

“In addition, officials in Hancock County announced back around the end of the year that Rolls Royce had chosen Stennis Space Center as a location for the final testing of its Trent 700 and Trent 900 line of aviation engines,” Freeland said. “We have had some key events transpire here in the past few years that have lent a lot of credibility to the argument we can do this. We have the ingredients in place to attract and accommodate new aerospace investments and job creation.”

For more information, see http://www.mscoastaerospace.com/.

“Read through this and it starts to paint a pretty concise picture as to how the ingredients are coming into play here in this region of the world,” Freeland said. “We aren’t promoting aerospace development because it is something we would like to have. Because of the various ingredients, we are a competitor. This coastal community can go toe to toe with any community anywhere and compete for a broad range of aerospace aviation technology projects.

“We have come a long way, and have built an identifiable image in the international arena. But we have to be aggressive because around the nation others are aggressively going after this business. We think there is great promise. It is not just hypothetical. We are experiencing success. It is happening right now.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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