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Partnership key to building aerospace industry in Montana, speaker says

By Leslie McCartney of The Montana Standard

A solid partnership between academia, industry and the federal government is imperative to growing a vibrant aerospace industry like the one Montana wants to create for itself.

“You need to analyze your market and work force, but the key to the whole thing is partnerships,” said Lawrence Greenwood, vice president for research at the National Space Science and Technology Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Greenwood and others spoke Thursday at the state’s first Montana Aerospace Conference, held at Fairmont Hot Springs. It was hosted by the Montana Aerospace Development Association, the state Department of Commerce and the Small Business Innovation Research program.

Greenwood delivered a snapshot of Alabama’s program to about 125 participants involved or interested in furthering aerospace opportunities in the state.

In Alabama, the partnership between private and public entities, supported by eager officials, has helped build the industry into a multi-billion dollar powerhouse benefiting employers, employees, students and research associated with the market.

In the past 30 years, Alabama has focused efforts on growing the sector. Greenwood offered suggestions he considers key to that growth.

“Know what you’ve got,” he said. “There is a tendency to want to bring in new companies, but take care of the companies that are there.”

In Alabama’s case, help came in the form of a diverse federal presence, including military installations and prominent research universities, which were brought together to pool their influence and make decisions as one.

“You have to speak with a single vote to be competitive,” he said. “And the partnerships have to be cost-effective.”

Alabama also joined with adjoining states on common aerospace issues to bring more clout to the region and used opportunities to consolidate and concentrate their efforts. For example, Greenwood’s national Space Science and Technology Center is located next to a university. It is funded by all the players and staffed by both public and private workers.

He also said that the academic programs and research undertaken by partnerships must stay current and relevant, as well as cost-effective, to propel the movement forward.

Other speakers at the daylong conference included representatives of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin. Session topics included aerospace research and development, education and work force development needs and manufacturing.

MSE Chief Executive Don Peoples, whose company is the lead facilitator on the Mariah II project, which explores hypersonic wind tunnel research, sees parallels between Alabama’s success with aerospace and Montana’s yearning to become a player in the field. With Malmstrom Air Force in Great Falls, MSE’s ties to space with its research, and nearby well-respected universities, the state could make serious tracks into the area, he said.