By David Berzina
Executive Vice President of Economic Development
Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce
Traditionally, people associate the greatest volume of aviation and aerospace activity in the U.S. with destinations such as Southern California or Washington State. They are often surprised to learn that Fort Worth is the second largest aviation cluster in the nation, just behind the greater Los Angeles area. In fact, the aviation industry contributed more than $40 billion to the North Texas economy in 2014. We anticipate this industry influence will strengthen over the next five years as Fort Worth remains an attractive option for California aviation manufacturers seeking relocation and expansion opportunities in a less restrictive regulatory environment.
According to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., employment in the state’s aviation sector is down 40 percent since 2004, because a number of airplane parts manufacturers have left Southern California. Their loss has been Fort Worth’s gain. So far this year, Fort Worth welcomed two of these companies.
In April, Calcomp, Inc. announced plans to move its manufacturing operations from Santa Fe Springs, Calif., to a 250,000-square-foot facility in North Fort Worth. The company, which makes commercial engine composites that reduce aircraft weight and increase fuel efficiency, is relocating 15 employees from California and plans to hire 30-35 North Texans. Fred Donnelly, president of Calcomp, says he selected Fort Worth based on its central geographic location and because city leaders made him feel welcome. Despite his presence in California for more than seven decades, Donnelly says new requirements going into effect in Southern California over the next 10 years will be extremely harmful to his business.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Buddy Tobin of C&S Propeller when his company announced plans in May to move its headquarters from Burbank to Fort Worth. He cited Fort Worth’s “business-friendly” environment and its deep roots in the aviation and aerospace industry as appealing. Founded in 1968, C&S Propeller is one of the world’s foremost experts in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of the propeller systems used on the Lockheed C130 Hercules aircraft. With more than 1,400 aircraft in military and civilian operation, the C130 is one of the largest and most widely used air transport fleets. The company plans to hire 12 North Texans.
Fort Worth’s reputation as a desirable location for aviation and aerospace companies is not something that happened overnight. It dates to 1911 when the first-ever powered flight in Fort Worth soared above a crowd of 17,000 spectators. Afterwards, private investors such as Amon G. Carter, Sr. worked with city leaders to lure more aviation companies to the community. The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce was also engaged in recruiting aviation companies by gathering data for the U.S. War Department about the city and its industrial capacity. These efforts culminated in 1941, when Fort Worth secured an Army bomber assembly plant, known today as Lockheed Martin. The construction of Meacham Field and Carswell Air Force Base, now known as Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, further cemented the city’s foothold in aviation.
In the years after World War II, Fort Worth rapidly emerged as an aerospace hub. It is now home to some of the world’s largest aviation companies, along with hundreds of related suppliers.
California aviation companies are not the only ones investing in Fort Worth. A number of highly influential brands that have been in this city for decades are expanding their presence. For example, last year, Lockheed Martin announced plans for a $1.2 billion upgrade to its mile-long facility. The company is also adding approximately 1,000 employees to accommodate an aggressive production schedule for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the largest national defense program in our nation’s history. The company currently employs approximately 13,000 in North Texas, with 8,800 dedicated to production of the F-35. Lockheed Martin also has at least 73 North Texas suppliers, which provide an additional 10,000 jobs and support 28,000 indirect positions.
American Airlines is another local aviation company that recently reinforced its commitment to Fort Worth. The world’s largest airline announced plans to spend $350 million on construction of a new 1.1 million-square-foot headquarters at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. The expansion will result in the addition of 5,000 jobs.
The city’s deep roots in the aviation industry have created a highly skilled workforce that California companies find extremely attractive. The large volume of military personnel with substantial expertise in defense programs, engineering and avionics support the region’s aerospace workforce of more than 22,000. Roughly one in five North Texans are employed, in some aspect, by the region’s aviation industry, resulting in an annual payroll of about $11 billion.
In order to keep this pipeline primed, representatives from Fort Worth’s aviation community have partnered with Tarrant County College on specialized training and certification programs. They include the FAA Airframe and Powerplant certification, as well as a certificate and degree program in avionics. In 2015, TCC partnered with Alliance Aviation Services to launch the Erma C. Johnson Hadley Center of Excellence for Aviation, Transportation and Logistics at Fort Worth Alliance Airport. Housed in a renovated 163,500-square-foot facility that was previously used by Bell Helicopter, the program specifically focuses on teaching students the necessary skills for their future employers to remain leaders in the aerospace industry.
California’s aerospace companies are flying to Fort Worth in response to our central geographic location, favorable business environment, rich aviation history and current position as one of the top aviation and aerospace clusters in the nation. Their addition to the city’s current roster of distinguished aviation companies will only strengthen our position in this constantly growing economic sector.
David Berzina is executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and he joined the Chamber in 2004. His projects have resulted in more than 13 million square feet of building space, $3.4 billion in capital investment, and more than 20,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in annual payroll. The Chamber provides an economic development update in each issue of FW Inc.
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