Tennessee’s High-Flying Aerospace and Defense Industry
n a state better known for country music and the world’s finest “sippin’ whiskey,” the aerospace and defense industry is flying high and making valuable contributions to American security and economic prosperity.
Earning its nickname for Davy Crockett’s courageous stand at the Alamo, the Volunteer State has a rich history of leadership and excellence in aerospace and defense. Virtually every aerospace system flying since the end of World War II has been tested in one or more of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex’s facilities simulating all facets of flight conditions, from subsonic to hypersonic and sea level to deep space. The AEDC, located at the Arnold U.S. Air Force Base in Tullahoma, Tenn., is the most advanced and largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world, operating 43 aerodynamic and propulsion wind tunnels, rocket and turbine engine test cells, space environmental chambers, arc heaters, ballistic ranges and other specialized units.
Tennessee companies brought in approximately $5.4 billion of defense-related projects in 2009, making up 2.2% of the state’s GDP. These contractors employ more than 32,000 people paying $2.2 billion in payroll. FedEx is the largest contractor with $1.5 billion of defense-related projects, but other world class defense companies like Aerospace Testing Alliance, Kilgore Flares, American Ordnance, Tennessee Apparel, Jacobs Engineering and many others call the Volunteer State home.
AEDC’s 16-foot supersonic wind tunnel test facility.
The aerospace industry’s strong presence can be felt throughout Tennessee. Memphis boasts a major personnel center for the U.S. Navy along with logistics giant FedEx’s global headquarters and Super Hub. Bell Helicopter is operating and expanding a major production facility in Johnson City, while aerospace and defense technical services powerhouse Jacobs Technology is at home in Tullahoma. Aircraft engine maintenance repair and overhaul leader Standard Aero has deep roots in Maryville, and Nashville boasts the major presence of rising star Embraer and tier two supplier Vought.
The state’s most famous defense-related organization, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was established in 1943 as part of the World War II Manhattan Project to help develop the atomic bomb and end the war. Today, ORNL is the largest science and energy national laboratory in the U.S. Department of Energy system. Workers there are conducting cutting edge research to help sustain America’s technical advantages in aerospace and defense and other vital, high-tech fields, including materials research, supercomputing and cyber defense.
Tennessee offers A&D organizations an unrivalled portfolio of competitive advantages. The Volunteer State is a place where low business costs meet the highest standards for research and development. It’s where a quality workforce is equally as impressive as its centralized location and unsurpassed transportation infrastructure. With no state income tax and one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, it’s easy to see why Tennessee is quickly becoming the new aerospace corridor.
To ensure a solid pipeline of well-trained and qualified workers, Tennessee is leading America’s education reform with a highly respected and robust system of universities, colleges and tech schools — all offering strong curriculum in STEM disciplines. The University of Tennessee Space Institute’s graduate programs in aeronautics, avionics and aviation list countless NASA astronauts as among their most distinguished alumni. Even the business school on UT’s flagship campus in Knoxville is an A&D leader, where the Center for Executive Education offers the nation’s only residence-based executive MBA tailored exclusively for the industry’s rising change agents and their sponsoring employers.
Middle Tennessee State University’s aerospace department is a national leader in training air traffic controllers in the most advanced simulators available, while Tennessee Tech provides a steady stream of engineering graduates who are hired by A&D firms within the state. Additionally, The University of Tennessee at Martin, in partnership with the ISR Group in Savannah, is developing unmanned aircraft systems in its precision agriculture curriculum.
Training centers and junior colleges like Motlow State Community College are providing focused training and education, especially in the design, assembly and integration of electromechanical and IT systems. For example, courses offered in Mechatronics provide Tennesseans insight and practical experience in programming languages that control assembly line robots, integrating electro-mechanical and computer systems, and understanding system interface design.
Add to these game changers the state’s low utility rates, a strategic location in the heart of the bustling Southeast and abundant, accessible and affordable transportation of all kinds. Tennessee is perfectly positioned to pioneer, serve and support A&D leaders in the Southeast and beyond.