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Panelists: Bright future for aerospace in the Upstate

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The future is bright for the aviation/aerospace industry in South Carolina, specifically in the Upstate, where 40% of the more than 400 aviatiorelated companies in the state are located.

Deborah Cameron, director of aerospace initiatives for the S.C. Council on Competitiveness, said the aerospace industry has had a $19 billion impact on the state economy in the last year, a growth of $2 billion over the last years.

From left, Don Erickson, site director for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Greenville; Deborah Cameron, director of aerospace initiatives for the S.C. Council on Competitiveness, and Steve Townes, CEO and founder of Ranger Aerospace, discuss the aviation/aerospace industry during a GSA Business Report power event. (Photo/Kathy Allen)“It is an industry that continues to grow in terms of significance and economic impact,” she said Thursday during a GSA Business Report power event.

Cameron, along with the other power event panelists Don Erickson from Lockheed Martin and Steve Townes, founder and CEO of Upstate-based Ranger Aerospace, believes the aerospace industry will continue to grow in the Upstate, an area with a strong automotive manufacturing base.

“It’s pretty natural to me that we would take somewhat of a back seat to the automotive manufacturing industry when you have BMW sitting right there in Greer,” Erickson said. “They’ve made an indelible mark on the state and certainly here in the Upstate, with all the start-up industry they’ve brought in around that. That’s been the model that the state has tried to expand on on the aerospace side.”

Erickson, who is site director for Lockheed Martin Greenville Operations, said the strong automotive industry in the Upstate has opened doors and the mindset that aerospace can have the same effect statewide.

One thing that could boost the industry is if Lockheed Martin is awarded an $11 to $12 billion defense contract to replace the T-38 trainer that’s been in service since the 1960s. By having the T-50A – an augmentation to the T-50 which is already flying - to replace the T-38, Erickson said the company is in the position to offer quick turnaround.

We’re ready now. We would be able to build aircraft almost immediately upon award,” he said.

Erickson said there are three elements to what Lockheed Martin can offer: the aircraft itself, a ground-based training system and an integrated logistics support element.

Townes said Lockheed Martin getting the contract would be a “huge victory for the Upstate.”

If economic logic prevails they will win,” Townes said. “If they lost the contract, I think it would not feel good, but Lockheed is one of the largest in our industry and will go on and prosper.”

Cameron believes the buzz surrounding Lockheed Martin’s bid for the contract is creating opportunities for the industry statewide.

“Frankly, when you’re in the economic development business, you can’t buy the kind of publicity and press that this project is already bringing to South Carolina,” she said.

“We have been here for 32 years and we’re not planning on packing the tent up,” Erickson said in response to being asked what would happen if Lockheed Martin didn’t get the contract. “This year we’ll deliver 56 aircraft – none of those are T-50As, so the market is still there.”

Townes said the U.S. aerospace industry, along with the air transport segment, is a $1 trillion industry that is growing about 6% each year, creating many opportunities in the Upstate, which he calls the epicenter of the industry in the Southeast.

We are in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-720-1223.

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