How the aerospace industry impacts Arizona’s economy

MESA – The world’s premier attack helicopter is made only in Mesa, and it’s one of the many reasons Arizona ranks fourth in the nation in employment for aerospace and defense manufacturing.

“Even though, they’re working here in Mesa, Arizona, they’re making a difference in Afghanistan, they’re making a difference in Saudi Arabia, they’re making a difference in Asia Pacific,” Director of Global Sales and Marketing for Boeing Attack Helicopter Programs Mark Ballew said.

According to the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona trails only California, Washington and Texas in employment for aerospace and defense manufacturing. Boeing, one of the state’s major defense contractors, has been producing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters in Mesa since the early 80’s.

“Historically, it’s been about a quality workforce, affordable land, favorable tax and regulatory environment, and all of that put together has created quite a strong climate for aerospace and defense contractors,” Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business Professor Dennis Hoffman said.

Currently, 52,592 Arizonans work in aerospace and defense, according to the ACA. Approximately 4,300 of them work for Boeing.
The industry continues to grow. The ACA said Arizona’s aerospace and defense exports rose nearly 22 percent from 2011 to 2014, and experts predict industry employment will increase 10 percent each year through 2018.

But as established companies like Boeing flourish, attracting new companies to the state can be difficult, and other industries haven’t been as successful. Arizona dropped from 13th to 34th last year in CNBC’s state rankings for business.

“It’s a challenge because you’ve described what every development organization, every state, every city, region is aspiring to,” Hoffman said. “How do we get mobile capital to locate in our state?”

As Arizona competes with other states for capital, certain characteristics set it apart in the aerospace and defense.

“We have a number of advantages when it comes to aerospace defense, most of it is air space, wide open spaces, places for them to test aircraft, places for defense systems to operate,” Hoffman said.

The Boeing plant in Mesa has solid production through 2026, but Ballew said the U.S. Army could be using Apaches through 2070.