Monday, December 15, 2014

GUEST COMMENTARY: Securing the Future of Aerospace in Kansas

U.S. Senator

Safeguarding our nation means both a strong national defense and a strong economy. The aerospace industry is where these two priorities combine.

In today’s global economy, aerospace provides vital opportunities for America at home and abroad, and Kansas is fortunate to be at the crossroads of the aerospace industry.

In Kansas, we build world-class airplanes and build them well. According to the Kansas Aviation Museum, Kansas aviation workers have supplied 74 percent of all general aviation aircraft since the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.

Today, roughly 32,000 Kansans support hundreds of aerospace companies – from large companies like Airbus, Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier and Textron, to many smaller suppliers – and their work contributes more than $7 billion annually to our state’s economy.

The economic future of our state and nation depends on securing a vibrant aerospace industry, and it is important that Congress do all it can to support a robust future for aerospace. That is why I am honored to serve as co-chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus.

The Senate Aerospace Caucus, founded in 2010, provides an important forum for U.S. Senators and aerospace representatives to discuss issues of importance to the nation’s defense, civil aviation and space sectors.

This caucus strives to: provide critical oversight of the U.S. government’s aerospace defense industry program; promote increased government investment in U.S. aviation infrastructure and development; ensure a competitive industrial base; and promote education and workforce development programs that prepare Americans for careers in the aerospace industry.

The focus of the Senate Aerospace Caucus on the future of aerospace and aviation is especially important to the Wichita community. Known as the “Air Capital of the World,” Wichita is internationally recognized as one of the best cities for aerospace innovation and talent.

In fact, more than half of all Kansans in the Wichita metro area are employed by aerospace companies, and the city boasts the third-highest concentration of engineers in the United States. This is because Wichita is the only place in the world that offers 90 years of experience in aviation manufacturing, access to the world’s largest supplier base, and a highly-skilled workforce. It’s no wonder global aviation manufacturers are eager to tap into the talents of Kansans.

But Kansas is not only a leader in aircraft manufacturing. Our state also supplies the workforce the aerospace industry needs through education and training facilities, the National Center for Aviation Training (NCAT) and Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR).

It is NIAR’s mission to conduct research, transfer technology and enhance education for the purpose of advancing the nation’s aviation industry, and to assist non-aviation industries that may benefit from aviation-related technologies.

These facilities make Wichita a hub for future generations of aviation manufacturers and engineers – and help solidify Kansas’ aerospace reputation around the world.

As Kansas’ largest industry, general aviation generates nearly $2.9 billion annually in exports from our state. An estimated 11.2 percent of Kansas’ total private-sector employment are linked to manufacturing.

This means Kansas jobs depend on aerospace exports – our state must continue to build quality products to stay competitive. By promoting education, workforce and research development, as well as increasing manufacturing within the aerospace industry, we can grow America’s economy and maintain our state’s competitive edge.

Kansas’ impressive record of accomplishment in aerospace did not happen by accident – it took hard work and innovation. I look forward to bringing those same attributes to my work as co-chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus to make certain this historical and innovative American industry remains strong, secure and globally competitive.