The International Paris Air Show is the largest and longest-running aerospace trade show in the world. For over 100 years the aviation industry has been gathering here to showcase the latest technologies in aviation and connect customers with suppliers. Charles Lindbergh landed his historic 1927 flight at this airport. This week an estimated 3,100 journalists, 285 official delegations from all over the world and over 300,000 attendees will visit the show.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s trade delegation is here representing Utah. We are not alone. Other states with an economic interest in aerospace invest time here as well. In addition to Utah, I saw booths from Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon and South Carolina. The Aerospace Industry Association reports the U.S. aerospace and defense industry employs more than 1 million workers in the United States and is the country’s largest net exporter.
In Utah, the data are equally compelling. According to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Utah’s aerospace and defense cluster represents 105 companies and employs more than 21,000 people. Prominent aerospace and defense companies in Utah include ATK, Exelis/Harris, Hexcel, Kaddas, L3 Communications, Northrop-Grumman, Syberjet, The Boeing Company, Lockheed-Martin and Thiokol Propulsion Corporation, to name just a few. Among Utah's strengths in the industry are composites and advanced materials, propulsion systems, avionics and control systems.
Val Hale directs Utah’s economic development efforts and has been particularly impressed with the contribution and potential for growth in Utah’s advanced composite industry. He told me new aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 are filled with composites, and Utah is at the epicenter of this industry. He estimates the composites industry in Utah accounts for 6,000 jobs, and most are looking to expand.
Throughout the day, Herbert, business leaders and other ambassadors for the state’s economy have met with companies that either have a presence in Utah or are interested in hearing about what the state has to offer in terms of our workforce and business climate. Jeff Edwards, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, leads many of these conversations. Edwards worked in aerospace earlier in his career and is fluent in French, which certainly helps.
Franz Kolb helps lead Utah’s trade and diplomacy efforts. He told me, “Aerospace is still an industry where face to face relationships matter. Relationships are formed over years. That’s why we are here each time.”
In a conversation with a U.S. government contingent here, I learned they missed the show in 2013 because of sequestration. Since the show is every other year it had been four years since the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force were well represented. They were here in force this year. I saw at least one four-star general. The official program lists the commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe, the U.S. secretary of transportation and the administrators of the FAA and NASA all in attendance.
I walked around the trade show with Ivy Estabrooke, who leads Utah’s Science, Technology and Research (USTAR) program. She confidently introduced herself to other scientists and told them about what we are doing in Utah to advance aeronautic research. People seemed genuinely interested in her message. We were even invited inside an Airbus research aircraft where two German scientists explained their latest work pertaining to “high lift performance prediction.”
Perhaps the best part of the show was a chance introduction. Estabrooke and I walked up to a display of U.S. military aircraft to learn more about the helicopters and jets on the tarmac. To my surprise the first pilot we talked to was from Brigham City. Nick Walker, also known as “Glock,” has been in the Air Force for 12 years and is currently stationed at Aviano Air Base, a NATO base in northeastern Italy. I asked him about whether he thought it was good for Utah to have a presence at the show and he said, “It makes a lot of sense to me.” He was pleased to hear his governor was here and offered to swing by a Utah reception tonight in central Paris to tell him thanks.
Tomorrow the Utah delegation flies home on the nonstop Delta flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Salt Lake City International Airport.
Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.