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Reading The Future: Aerospace & Defense (40 Years of Arkansas Business)

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Editor’s note: This article is part of a special magazine celebrating 40 years of Arkansas Business. The full magazine is available here.

The aerospace and defense sector continues to rapidly take off in Arkansas.

In 2022, aerospace and defense exports made up more than 15% of the state’s total exports with more than $890 million in goods exported, according to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Aerospace and aviation products are now the state’s leading exports in terms of the dollar amount of the products that are made in Arkansas and shipped elsewhere.

Industry experts expect those economic data points to only continue to increase as more companies announce plans to expand operations or start new businesses in Arkansas.

In 2023 alone, defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne announced it would add at least 200 jobs to its facilities in Camden, now largely the epicenter of aerospace and defense manufacturing in the state. Lockheed Martin also has facilities at the Highland Industrial Park in Camden. So does National Technical Systems.

Last April, the U.S. Department of Defense announced a $215 million agreement with Aerojet Rocketdyne to expand and modernize its facilities in Camden, as well as in Huntsville, Alabama, and Orange County, Virginia.

In October 2023, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that RTX Corp. subsidiary Raytheon Technologies and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems will build a $33 million missile manufacturing facility in East Camden. Sanders said the deal came together during her summer 2023 trip to the Paris Air Show. The facility is expected to create 30 jobs and build missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and the American equivalent, the SkyHunter defense system.
And in December, Dassault Falcon Jet announced a $100 million expansion of its Little Rock facility, a project expected to create 800 jobs during the next few years.

“We have a very full pipeline of projects we are working on,” said Olivia Womack, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s director of business development. “Some may happen in coming months, while some may take years, but we definitely have a full pipeline.”

More aerospace and defense companies are looking to expand or move operations to Arkansas from the East and West coasts because of a more favorable business climate, including the state’s regulatory environment, Womack said. She added that Arkansas is now becoming not only nationally but also internationally recognized as a location for the manufacture of defense and aerospace technologies and related products.

Commerce officials are planning to attend the 2024 Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire, England, in July to recruit more companies, Womack said. The state will also host the annual Mid-America Aerospace & Defense Summit this August in Rogers.

“A sign of success for a business is repeat customers. We have had Dassault Falcon, Raytheon and others that have located here in Arkansas and have experienced how successful they can be, the workforce they have been able to attract and retain, and the business climate,” Womack said. “They want to keep growing and expanding. It’s the repeat customers we are happy about.”

Chad Causey, executive director of the Arkansas Aerospace & Defense Alliance trade organization, said he expects more commercial aviation products to be made in the state.

“We don’t have a Boeing finishing facility, but we have many companies that are in the supply chain for Boeing or Bombardier,” Causey said. “Our industry is diverse. We have a lot of manufacturers making parts and widgets for aircraft and helicopters. I think there is a lot of promise for that industry here in the state of Arkansas.”

“I think all things are possible,” Causey said. “More people are seeing Arkansas as an aerospace state. We have an opportunity for growth in all three sectors, be it on the defense sector side, the unique cluster we have in Little Rock around aircraft interior finishing, and then just the components manufacturing.”

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