Tucson tech: US grants to help foster aerospace, defense in state

New efforts to boost Arizona’s aerospace and defense sector are about to take off, aided by recent federal grants worth $1.8 million.

Last month, the Arizona Commerce Authority won the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator grants from a consortium of five federal government agencies. The state agency was one of only 10 grant recipients nationwide.

Commerce Authority CEO Sandra Watson said the money will help the state advance one of its most important sectors.

The grant proposal was focused on a six-county region: Cochise, Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma.

Grant applicants could propose projects in any industry involving advanced manufacturing.

“We selected aerospace and defense as our industry focus area due to the critical mass of clients and companies we have in our state,” said Watson, who was named chief of the Commerce Authority last month after serving as interim CEO since last summer.

She noted that the aerospace and defense industry cluster comprises some 1,200 companies and 55,000 jobs, accounting for about 6 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

Local aerospace and defense companies include Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems (the state’s biggest defense employer, with about 10,500 employees); Honeywell Aerospace; Universal Avionics; Paragon Space Development; Sargent Aerospace and Defense; Bombardier Aerospace; and B/E Aerospace.

Grant Types

The grant money will be used for various initiatives depending on the source of each grant, with specific projects still to be determined, Watson said.

Here’s a look at the specific grants and the kinds of things they will be used for:

  • The biggest grant, $800,000 from the Economic Development Administration, will be used to develop cluster networks to bolster existing aerospace and defense industry groups, such as the Arizona Technology Council, and institutions including the University of Arizona and community groups.
    An example of possible uses for the grant money, Watson said, is to help hold events such as the first annual Arizona Aerospace and Defense Requirements Conference, hosted last January by the Tech Council in collaboration with the Commerce Authority.
  • A grant of $450,000 from the Department of Energy will likely be used to expand investments already made through Science Foundation Arizona in advanced energy technologies.
  • The Employment and Training Administration granted $400,000, which will be used to build a support system to back apprenticeships and internships for community colleges and private schools to develop aerospace talent.
  • A grant of $167,000 from the Small Business Administration will be used to expand aerospace- and defense-supplier networks, through things like database development.

One candidate for support is an online database of aerospace and defense suppliers developed by Arizona State University, Watson said.

Related but so far unfunded, Watson said, is an effort to create a new and improved version of the Arizona Manufacturing Extension Partnership, part of a nationwide system of centers linked through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

drone test center

Some of the grant money also may go to support Arizona’s bid to land one of six federally approved test centers for unmanned aircraft. Arizona is one of several states awaiting a final request for proposals for the drone test sites by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is supposed to pick the sites by year’s end.

While the Commerce Authority is spearheading the aero and defense effort, the specific agency charged with developing the sector — and leading the charge on the unmanned aircraft site — is being remade.

The state Aerospace and Defense Commission, established in 2005 under the former state Department of Commerce (which gave way to the Commerce Authority), would be the logical driver of such efforts.

But the commission, which by law was under the Arizona Department of Commerce, was essentially put on hiatus early this year and its membership allowed to expire at the end of September.

Watson said the commission will be restructured, but the near-term focus will be on landing the drone test center.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

(c)2012 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.)

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