For decades, Georgia has been on the forefront of manufacturing high-performance aircraft. Today, the state is home to a variety of companies making everything from hypersonic vehicles to electric aircraft and drones.
On March 2, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson travelled to Marietta, Ga. to witness the unveiling of the world’s biggest airplane, the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, built at Lockheed’s manufacturing plant just north of Atlanta.
Addressing an audience of dignitaries on a bright, brisk, winter morning, the president drew laughter when he recalled the story of “the man who built a big boat in his basement – and then couldn’t get it out.” With a seasoned politician’s consummate timing, Johnson cast a quick glance behind him at the massive C-5 aircraft that had just rolled out of the hangar.
“That didn’t happen,” he remarked, “here in Georgia.”
Fast forward half-a-century, and the mammoth C-5 remains a strategic backbone of The United States Strategic Command. And it stands as a symbol of a statewide aerospace industry that continues to think big, as evidenced by the recent introduction by Savannah’s Gulfstream Aerospace of not one, but two new entrants into the high-end business jet market.
Georgia is an aviation powerhouse with Lockheed Martin, Delta Air Lines, Gulfstream Aerospace and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as well as Georgia Tech’s elite Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering. Middle Georgia State University offers flight, aviation maintenance and air traffic control programs. The Technical College System of Georgia has 6 Technical colleges offering aviation programs across the state. These assets helped Georgia earn PwC’s top ranking as the No. 1 State for Aerospace Manufacturing attractiveness. Gulfstream is Georgia’s top producer of manufacturing jobs, employing 10,000 Georgians at Gulfstream Headquarters in the Savannah region.
Setting a New Standard
Scarcely a week after it announced the delivery of its 50th Gulfstream G600, which entered service in August 2019, Gulfstream introduced both the Gulfstream G800 and Gulfstream G400 in October, 2021. The G800 boasts a longest-range reach of 8,000 nautical miles at Mach 0.85 and 7,000 nautical miles at Mach 0.90 (approximately 666 mph.). The G400, says Gulfstream, is the first new entrant to the large-cabin class in more than a decade.
Gulfstream cabins are renowned for their comfort. The company’s crafted cabinetry, upholstery and veneers are created with exclusive materials and accessories sourced from the world’s finest design houses. The new projects have triggered a hiring bonanza in Savannah.
“The local jobs in Savannah that will be created by these airplanes is going to be in the thousands,” said Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream. “We’ve hired about 3,000 people so far this year. I think we have 2,000 job that are open right now, and as manufacturing continues to grow for the G700 and these two new airplanes, we’ll see job growth in Savannah,” said Burns.
Gulfstream is a serial expander, having invested $55 million in a Savannah expansion that created 200 jobs in 2018.
"We’ve hired about 3,000 people so far this year."
— Mark Burns, President, Gulfstream Aerospace
“You think about it,” says Trip Tollison, president of Savannah Economic Development Authority, “we have the largest manufacturer in the state of Georgia that is going all-in on two new products. The fact that they have five new products that they’ve announced over the past five-six years in Savannah means that they are married to this community.”
Tops in the Nation
Home to more than 800 aerospace companies and a total aerospace workforce of 104,000, Georgia has nurtured a diverse aerospace support industry across the sectors of manufacturing, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), and transportation. Aerospace products are the number one export from the state of Georgia at $9.98 billion in 2020 and aerospace products make up the state’s second largest manufacturing sector. Georgia’s Aerospace industry generates a $68 billion economic impact.
In ranking the state tops for Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness, PwC scored Georgia first for infrastructure, fourth for tax policy, fifth for overall industry, 10th for costs and 12th for labor. The report goes on to say that aerospace firms are drawn to Georgia because of low operating costs, business-friendly policies, the ports of Savannah and Brunswick and the convenience offered by Hartsfield-Jackson.
Collaboration among leaders from industry, academia and government are key to the aerospace sector’s strength. Georgia offers a unique method of support for strategic industries such as aerospace through its Center of Innovation, comprised of industry-specific teams comprised of professionals from those industries that assist companies to accelerate the development of new products, ideas and business models.
Georgia’s Innovation’s Aerospace team supports Georgia’s aerospace companies by connecting them to resources, research and potential collaborators.
Georgia colleges and universities devote in excess of $2 billion yearly in research and development. Georgia Tech’s Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering spends in the range of $152 million on aerospace R & D yearly. The university’s aerospace engineering programs are ranked 2nd in the US for undergraduates, and 4th for graduate programs, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Georgia’s aerospace workforce is bolstered by the state’s vanguard Quickstart program, which offers companies free, customized workforce training through the state’s extensive network of community and technical colleges.