he fight for freedom takes place not just on the battlefield, but also on the factory floors of aerospace and defense plants in Arkansas.
While Ukrainian military forces fight to preserve the sanctity of their homeland in Eastern Europe from invading Russian troops, munitions workers in Camden, Arkansas, are busy plying their trade to keep the Ukrainians armed and ready for battle.
Components of the Javelin anti-tank missile defense system are made in Camden through a joint venture of General Dynamics and Aerojet Rocketdyne. On a recent visit to see these workers on the plant floor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, “Your daily commitment to producing state-of-the-art and highly technical components and propulsion systems has made the difference for Ukraine. Because of your work, Ukraine has surprised its invaders by a strong defense against the onslaught of a cruel invasion. Camden is in a critical front-line position to support the Ukrainians who are stopping the Russian army from overrunning their nation.”
What happens in Camden is just one facet of a multi-layered industry sector in Arkansas. Statewide, more than 8,275 people are employed in the aerospace and defense fields, making this the top exporting industry in the state with over a billion dollars in goods and services shipped to other countries.
Aerospace and defense related products make up about 20% of the state’s total exports. Much of this activity is clustered in Central Arkansas around the capital city of Little Rock. The total value of Little Rock Air Force Base’s economic impact in 2020 was more than $1.13 billion; and Dassault Falcon Jet maintains its largest facility in the world in Little Rock – Dassault Aircraft Services.
The history of aerospace in Arkansas dates back to 1872, when Arkansan Charles McDermott received a patent for his “flying machine.” In 1908, the Hot Springs Airship Company opened and began building flying dirigibles.
By the mid-1900s, Arkansas had two Air Force bases — Eaker just outside of Blytheville, and Little Rock. Today, LRAFB remains the seventh largest employer in the state.
“The state’s business-friendly climate and strong workforce have contributed to making Arkansas an aerospace industry hub.”
— Clint O’Neal, Deputy Director, AEDC
Virtually every corner of Arkansas has at least one aerospace or defense employer. The roster of employers statewide reads like a Who’s Who of this sector. Among the largest employers in Arkansas are Lockheed Martin, Dassault Falcon, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Safran, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics. Smaller companies also dot the landscape of the Natural State — firms like Esna, MEC, CMT, EPI and D&N Machining.
The epicenter for aerospace and defense manufacturing in the state is the Highland Industrial Park in East Camden. This complex is located in the former Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot and covers 18,740 acres. The park features more than 5.4 million sq. ft. of industrial space. It is home to Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics and many other big firms.
The state continues to aggressively recruit similar companies, as evidenced by Arkansas sending a delegation to the Farnborough International Airshow in England in July. Each year, almost $200 billion worth of deals are transacted at this global five-day event.
This year, Arkansas sent the governor and several members of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission team. “The Farnborough International Airshow is a key opportunity for Arkansas to showcase its excellence in the aerospace industry on a global scale,” said Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston. “The airshow is the most important aerospace industry event of the year; it brings together key players in the industry from across the world.”
In May, Lockheed Martin and Airbus announced that the LMXT strategic tanker aircraft’s aerial refueling boom system will be made in Arkansas. Also, Fort Smith’s Ebbing Air National Guard Base was selected by the Department of the Air Force as the new location for the 425th Fighter Squadron, a Republic of Singapore air force F-16 Fighting Falcon training unit.
“We are proud to say that the aerospace industry thrives in Arkansas,” said Arkansas Economic Development Commission Deputy Director Clint O’Neal. “The state’s business-friendly climate and strong workforce have contributed to making Arkansas an aerospace industry hub.”