Arkansas Aerospace Alliance Sets Sights on Promoting, Supporting State's Aviation Sector

Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas announced this week the formation of the Arkansas Aerospace Alliance, a trade association "to support and promote the growth of the aerospace and aviation industry in the state."

The goal of the alliance, which held its first meeting of the steering committee earlier this week, is to train the state's current and future aerospace workforce, be a resource to existing industry, to promote Arkansas’ workforce and to attract new aerospace companies to the state.

According to the state chamber, which will administer the alliance with input from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the alliance will hold the annual Arkansas Aerospace Summit on March 5-7 at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

The alliance began about six years ago as a task force by the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission, according to a story Monday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Now, 35 representatives of the aviation and aerospace industry, business and general aviation, manufacturing, the state military community and federal government are working with the governor's office to develop a trade association to support the industry, the chamber said.

"This alliance will build future success and achievement onto Arkansas’s strong foundation in aerospace and aviation," Gov. Mike Beebe said in a news release. "We must always be ready to adapt to keep up with this evolving industry, and gathering expert minds to work together will help us do just that."

"The creation of the Arkansas Aerospace Alliance is exactly what our industry needs right now,"  Scott Van Laningham, executive director and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority, said. "By bringing together representatives from airports and aviation companies, we can become stronger advocates for solutions to the challenges that each group faces.

"Whether the issue is having a better trained workforce for our industries or having grants for projects at our airports, we all benefit when we tackle these issues together.”

The aerospace and aviation industry in Arkansas employs about 9,000 people in Arkansas and was the state's largest exporter at its peak, with exports of more then $1.67 billion.

But the industry has fallen from its heights. According to the Democrat-Gazette, exports were at $486.4 million, down 16.8 percent from the previous year. And one of the biggest players in the Arkansas aerospace sector, Hawker Beechcraft, announced earlier this month that it will close its Hawker Beechcraft Services facility in Little Rock and reduce its remaining workforce.

There remains bright spots, however. In August, Custom Aircraft Cabinets, a woodworking and upholstery manufacturer for the aerospace industry, announced 150 new jobs and a move to a new manufacturing plant to Sherwood.