Former Rep. Chris Stewart has taken on another new role: chairman of the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association, or UADA, replacing previous chairman Robert O’Brien, the association announced Monday.

The Utah Aerospace and Defense Association, which was created less than a year ago, serves as the first-ever convening body for aerospace and defense companies in the state of Utah. It also promotes and advocates for Utah companies that are developing the next generation of technology.

The organization works as a partner to the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, World Trade Center Utah, the Legislature and other organizations in promoting and advocating for the aerospace and defense industry.

The aerospace and defense industry is booming in Utah. From well-known, large companies, down to small startups, there are more than 1,000 companies and half a dozen military installations across the state. Together, they make up almost 20% of the state’s economic activity.

It is already having international impact. On Sept. 21, Aaron Starks, Utah Aerospace and Defense Association president and CEO, signed a memorandum of understanding with Oleksandr Kamyshin, the minister for Strategic Industries of Ukraine, with the support and presence of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The memorandum of understanding creates a framework for critical industries in Ukraine and Utah-based companies to cooperate on armored vehicle manufacturing; artillery and air defense systems; aerospace equipment; autonomous systems; and more. A press release about the signing indicates that the memorandum will “open up pathways for Utah companies to explore manufacturing opportunities in Ukraine, and for the Ukrainian government and private sector to source strategic goods and services from Utah’s robust industry.”

Stewart’s experience

Stewart was first elected to Congress in 2013 and served on the prestigious U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

During his decade in Washington, D.C., Stewart was immersed in the intelligence community. A former pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Stewart said that when he went to Congress, he knew he “could contribute to critical decisions related to aerospace and defense because it was a continuation of what I’d always done.”

Now, joining the UADA is a further continuation of that work. “Leading the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association will allow me to leverage my expertise and continue serving Utahns in a critical way,” Stewart said. “This is my greatest passion and where I feel I can make a difference.”

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Referring to his time on the Intelligence Committee, Stewart said that in the next five to 10 years, quantum computing, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will change the nature of the defense industry. He said he is confident he can contribute to these efforts to keep the nation safe and allow Utah to compete on a global stage.

“Artificial intelligence, radars, deterrence systems, cybersecurity, machine learning, drones and more are critical technology areas for the future of our country that can be developed here in Utah,” said Stewart.

“Congressman Stewart has a unique and incredible perspective on the nation’s defense strategy which will accelerate growth for companies in Utah looking to scale worldwide,” Starks said. “At his core, Chris is an innovator who will help the organization in its efforts to recruit talent, source capital, and create an ecosystem that enables entrepreneurs to succeed.”

Adam Gardiner, vice president of government affairs for the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association, added, “I’m grateful for the foresight of the Utah aerospace and defense associations Board of Directors in choosing former congressman Chris Stewart to chair the organization. His knowledge of the workings of Congress, the Executive Branch, and especially the department of defense will be invaluable in representing aerospace, defense, cyber, and intelligence companies in Utah. And since we represent 20% of Utah’s economy, that’s no small task.”

Shortly after resigning from Congress on Sept. 15, Stewart announced that he is partnering with former national security adviser Robert O’Brien in a new government affairs firm, in addition to Monday’s announcement that he will chair the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy