August 20, 2012
Credit: Credit: Airbus
Carole Hedden Washington
“Oklahoma was the best location.” So proclaimed Christian Boas, CEO of Belgian supply chain integrator and component-maker Asco, as he announced plans at last month's Farnborough air show to build a $100 million facility in Stillwater.
Asco's investment in the U.S. heartland is the latest example of the aerospace industry's role in the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing. Airbus announced early last month that it will invest $600 million to open an A320 final assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., and has a long-term plan to double its purchases from U.S. suppliers to $24 billion a year. And Embraer, which is based in Brazil, is now assembling Phenom business jets at a new factory in Melbourne, Fla.
Results from Aviation Week's 2012 Workforce Study show that companies across the A&D industry are hiring machinists, operators and skilled craftsmen for U.S. facilities. And that could accelerate as soaring wages and high employee turnover diminish the attractiveness of low-cost meccas such as Mexico, China and India. Another bonus: Energy costs in the U.S. have flatlined, driven in large part by new technology that is allowing energy companies to access huge reserves of natural gas. Add that all up and you get a much more competitive environment for manufacturing in the U.S., says Jack McDougle, senior vice president at the Council on Competitiveness.
The Aviation Week study finds that over the next three years A&D companies are planning to hire more than 12,000 technicians, operators, machinists and skilled craftsmen. Many of those jobs will be in an emerging air transport manufacturing cluster in the Southeast U.S., a region that appeals to employers due to its lack of labor unions and abundance of state incentives—including extended workforce training packages and assistance in establishing advanced innovation centers and incubators to drive the major manufacturing operations.
One of the industry's key worries is finding enough qualified employees. Thirty percent of respondents to the survey say manufacturing shortages are hindering their ability to grow. And companies worry that a need for more on-the-job training could drag down their productivity. Attrition rates for manufacturing professionals and hourly workers are hovering at 10-11%, twice the average for the overall industry. And nearly a quarter of the A&D manufacturing workforce will be eligible for retirement in 2015, up from 18% this year.
Those concerns are real, as is the new “offshoring to America” trend.
With Joseph C. Anselmo in Farnborough.