Birmingham team pitches aerospace growth potential at Paris Air Show

PARIS — A group of economic development specialists, airport leaders and government officials from the Birmingham region has landed at the 2023 Paris Air Show with a strategic plan to elevate the profile of Alabama’s largest metro area in the aerospace industry.

“Team BHM” is telling industry decision-makers about ambitious growth initiatives at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, the expanding presence of a high-tech defense company and the region’s prime location in a major aerospace/defense cluster, among other things.

“The trajectory and growth of the aerospace industry has exponential growth opportunities ahead of it,” said Steve Ammons, president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, a core member of the regional team attending the Paris Air Show.

“Alongside our excellent partners in the community like City of Birmingham, Jefferson County and the Birmingham Airport Authority, we’re working to position the Greater Birmingham Region to have success in the industry for years to come,” he added.

Alabama aerospace industry
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, rear right, speaks to Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield and Bob Smith, Commerce’s aerospace specialist, at the Made in Alabama booth at the Paris Air Show, Tuesday, June 20, 2023.

Though the Birmingham region boasts the largest economy among the state’s metro areas, its aerospace/defense sector is smaller than other areas. An analysis by the University of Alabama in Huntsville calculated that the Birmingham region’s defense sector generates an annual economic impact of around $580 million, with 2,500 direct and indirect jobs.

That compares to $27 billion and 140,000 jobs for Redstone Arsenal, the sprawling federal complex in Huntsville, and $9 billion and 29,000 jobs for Fort Novosel (formerly Fort Rucker) in Southeast Alabama, according to UAH.

Ammons said the region’s advantages far outweigh its underdog status — a clear message that Team BHM is reinforcing at the global aerospace industry’s most important business development event this year.

“Our goal in Paris is to build long-term relationships. Right now, our footprint in the aerospace and aviation industry is small, but there’s an abundance of opportunity ahead of us,” Ammons said.

“The stronger our relationships are, the higher the likelihood it is for us to recruit bigger and better aerospace projects into the Greater Birmingham Region,” he added.

Though not a regular participant in international air show missions led by the Alabama Department of Commerce over the years, Team BHM is stepping up its game. In Paris, it’s hosting a brunch and joining other Alabama organizations to throw a reception for industry representatives. It’s also engaging in appointments and the air show’s abundant networking opportunities.

“The aerospace industry is a significant growth area for the Greater Birmingham Region. I have been encouraged by the Birmingham Airport Authority’s investment in capital improvements, which are already creating benefits,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said.

“The City of Birmingham is an intentional partner in public-private ventures and an excellent place where businesses can start, grow and relocate,” he added. “As a region, we look forward to sharing our vision at the Paris Air Show.”

 

KRATOS IMPACT

The timing has never been more favorable for the Birmingham region to tap into the industry’s growth curve.

Alabama aerospace industry
Ben Goodwin, senior vice president at Kratos, center, poses with Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield at the Farnborough Airshow, Tuesday, July 19, 2022. Kratos announced plans to expand its Birmingham engineering facility.

At the 2022 Farnborough International Airshow, Ammons and other Birmingham officials celebrated an announcement that California-based Kratos plans to add 76 high-paying jobs with a growth project at its Birmingham facility, known as Kratos SRE.

Dave Carter, president of Kratos’ Defense & Rocket Support Services Division, said the company’s decision to establish Kratos SRE as its Advanced Concepts group demonstrates the company’s commitment to Alabama and the growing aerospace and defense community in Birmingham.

“Kratos SRE Birmingham is a key part of our strategy to expand Kratos’ leading-edge technology and hypersonic capabilities in Alabama and across the country,” Carter said in late March.

Kratos SRE (formerly the engineering division of Birmingham’s Southern Research) employs around 165 engineers, technicians and program support professionals conducting work in support of the space community, the Department of Defense and other national security customers.

AIRPORT GROWTH

Meanwhile, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) is launching ambitious growth plans of its own.

At the state’s busiest airport, construction is poised to begin on the facility’s first dedicated general cargo terminal, a $27 million project that reflects a new focus on attracting cargo business.

That focus is already paying off, with new weekly international cargo flights from Stuttgart, Germany.

The cargo hub will serve as the Southeast hub for Kuehne+Nagel, a global logistics powerhouse that plans to serve companies in the aerospace, pharmaceutical and automotive industries, including Mercedes-Benz.

“Our vision is to make Birmingham into a long-term gateway to and from the Southeastern Corridor of the U.S., and we’re pleased to be able to provide customers with alternative options that support their supply chain needs,” said Greg Martin, senior vice president, Air Logistics at Kuehne+Nagel.

In addition, Austin, Texas-based Million Air is embarking on a project that will add new hangars spanning 84,000 square feet and a 10,000-square-foot terminal to enhance services for private and corporate aircraft at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth.

The new terminal and hangars will replace buildings erected as far back as the 1960s.

FLIGHT PLAN

Though aerospace industry growth has not been a traditional priority for the region, Ammons thinks the region is primed for companies operating within the sector.

“Birmingham had the only announcement for the state of Alabama at the airshow last year, and we’re ready to build off that momentum,” he said. “The recent announcements from the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport are just the tip of the iceberg.

“As we continue to work together with partners across the region, Birmingham will be well-positioned to attract more aviation companies and help our existing companies like Kratos grow,” he added.

After all, the Birmingham region boasts a large, diverse economy with a population topping 1 million. It’s home to a major research university, UAB, and possesses a strong heritage in manufacturing. The city stands in the center of Alabama’s auto industry and is nurturing a growing high-tech sector.

“Located in the bullseye of the Southeast, our region has amazing proximity to major aerospace companies and their supply chains,” Ammons said. “We also have a lot of great assets and partners across the industry in our community.

“From an Airport Authority that’s making strategic investments to one of the nation’s only high schools focused on training future aerospace professionals, there is no shortage of advantages our region offers to prospective companies,” he said.

The Alabama Aerospace & Aviation High School, a free public charter school located in Bessemer, welcomed its first class of 100 students interested in pursuing aviation-focused career pathways in Fall 2022. Enrollment is expected to eventually top out at 550.

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