Chad Causey on Keeping Arkansas' Aerospace Industry Up in the Air

In February, Chad Causey was named to lead the Arkansas Aerospace Alliance. He is a senior associate and counsel at Noble Strategies, a government affairs firm in Little Rock.

For more than five years, Causey was chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Marion Berry and was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate to succeed Berry in the 1st Congressional District. As chief of staff, Causey focused on transportation and infrastructure issues. He then practiced law at Womack Landis Phelps & McNeill in Jonesboro.

The alliance is a relatively new organization. What is its mission?

Our mission is to promote the growth and sustainability of Arkansas’ aerospace, defense and aviation sectors. Part of the way we accomplish these goals is through creating business opportunities for existing and new companies, facilitating educational and workforce training opportunities and encouraging public policies that help the industry.

What does your job entail?

My primary responsibilities during these early days of the alliance are to promote the alliance as a collective voice for Arkansas’ aerospace and defense interests. We are working to recruit more companies to become members of the alliance to take advantage of the services we offer while striving to let every Arkansan know what a tremendous economic benefit these companies are to our state.

How big is the aerospace industry in Arkansas?

Arkansas’ aerospace, defense and aviation industries employ more that 10,000 in approximately 180 companies throughout the state. In 2012, aerospace exports to the world totaled more than $1.8 billion, ranking as our state’s No. 1 export and placing Arkansas in the top 15 nationally for aerospace exports. At the same time, commercial airports here in Arkansas generate $2 billion in economic activity and general aviation has an economic impact on Arkansas of about $500 million annually.

The aerospace industry was hit hard by the Great Recession. Do you see signs of recovery?

Hawker Beechcraft and the closing of its operation here in Little Rock was one of the many difficult stories for our industry that resulted, at least in part, from the recession. The good news is that the aerospace industry is seeing great signs of improvement as the overall economy begins to make a turn for the positive with aerospace exports growing tremendously in 2012. Another very exciting sign of a positive trend was Dassault Falcon Jet’s announcement to undertake a $60 million expansion of its Little Rock operations.

What are the biggest challenges facing the aerospace industry in Arkansas?

The economy and visibility. While we are certainly seeing signs of improvement in the economy, we have a long way to go to sustain the growth needed in the industry. As to visibility, Arkansas is primed to grow significantly as a location for aerospace companies, and our mission is to spread the word. Arkansas is strategically located very near a north-south axis running from southern Iowa to eastern Texas with several major aerospace and defense clusters with much potential for growth. Arkansas companies can and should grow with the sector, and the alliance’s challenge is to educate those major buyers located in those clusters and others around the globe that Arkansas aerospace and defense companies offer high-quality products and are capable and willing to compete for business with anyone.