Audience encouraged to consider aerospace, advanced manufacturing to diversify a resource-based economy
July 20, 2018
Editor’s Note: This is the final article in a three-part series exploring topics from the 2018 Regional Economic Development Forum, hosted by the Economic Development Council of Colorado, partners and sponsors in Craig on Wednesday, July 11.
CRAIG — Aviation and aerospace manufacturing could be the next frontier for economic development in Northwest Colorado, according to the final panel discussion held during the Economic Development Council of Colorado Regional Economic Development Forum on July 11.
The forum drew civic leaders, business concerns and policymakers from across the EDCC’s Region 11 — Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Garfield and Mesa counties.
To introduce the final panel discussion — how to diversify a resource-based economy — moderator Anthony Russo, president of TradeHub International, asked: "What do we need for small communities to grow? What do we need to focus on to achieve that goal?"
He then pointed to data showing that, in Colorado, advanced manufacturing and aerospace top the list of the largest non-service industries in the state.
Three speakers from those sectors — Lockheed Martin Space Production Principal Mark Yoss, SG Aerospace and Gas President Mike Sneddon and Colorado Northwestern Community College Aviation Program Director David Boles — provided examples of how communities might grow manufacturing.
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Northwest programs taking flight
Colorado Northwestern Community College has one of the most affordable aviation programs in the county, with a waiting list of students, Boles said.
Students graduate into a career field with high-demand jobs due to a worldwide pilot shortage, which Boles said "is a very serious problem for America and has been identified by the Pentagon as a national security risk."
Families can afford the program offered by CNCC, because the college operates its own fleet of 11 aircraft, faculty service the equipment and manages the airport in exchange for use of hangars and runways.
"We are 40- to 45-percent cheaper than the higher-end academic programs," Boles said.
The program is currently capped at 50 students but is looking to expand, both through a new drone program in Craig and a partnership with Metro State University that would have Metro students complete part of their aviation program studies at CNCC.
Transitioning a skilled workforce
The Aerospace and Defense supply chain in 2016 created $674 billion in revenue, resulting in millions of high-paying job, but looming is a massive labor shortage.
Yoss presented data projecting that 3.4 million new manufacturing workers would be needed over the next decade. Of those, 2.7 million openings are expected to result from retirements, and 700,000 new jobs will be created as the industry expands. However, only 1.4 million people have the skills needed to fill those roles. This leaves a 2 million person gap.
"There is an opportunity. Local talent can fill the gap, and it gives you a reason to bring manufacturing here," Russo said.
One challenge for any community looking to develop advanced manufacturing is to change perceptions of the work.
"Manufacturing isn't dirty and dumb and dangerous; it's digital," Yoss said. "About 90 percent would say it's important, but only 18 percent believe it's a good job. Something has to change there."
Lockheed Martin annually spends $29 billion with suppliers like Sneddon, who has an advanced manufacturing business based in Grand Junction.
Asked if a remote location is a barrier to business development, both Yoss and Sneddon said location shouldn't prevent rural communities from developing the sector.
After shipping and other logistics are factored into the equation, Sneddon is still able to produce his products at less cost than competing suppliers.
"The entire state has the opportunity to go after business. You can't be complacent. Nobody is going to come to you. Go and meet with people and network in order to move forward," Sneddon said.
Yoss said, Lockheed Martin has a supplier diversity program and is one of many manufacturers that intentionally look for suppliers from diverse communities with an eye towards creating a reliable supply chain.
"Manufacturing can help build an economy," he said.
Russo agreed, but thinks rural communities should focus less on "big fish," like Lockheed Martin.
"Go after the smaller manufacturers to create jobs," he said. And in growing suppliers like Sneddon, Russo believes communities eventually catch the "big fish."
Excitement, ingenuity, education
Achieving the goal of economic diversity may begin with changing the mindset of workers transitioning from other sectors, entrepreneurs and job seekers.
"We cannot be service-based all our lives. In manufacturing, we have to be creative. Millennials want to learn; they have a different approach. Have them be creative. Help them become excited about space … about something besides a new app that's going to make their Facebook expand," Sneddon said.
Academia is also beginning to rethink its approach, Boles said, by asking, "What does industry want, so that our program is designed so that those students are ready?"
Yoss said it is important to develop "soft skills" — leadership, communication, teamwork and a mindset — a passion — about space. He also said computer skills, manual dexterity and the ability to use and understand big data are among the skills needed most.
Existing manufacturers seeking to retool or entrepreneurs wanting to become suppliers must also become qualified.
"You have to have the paper to prove that you are certified," Yoss said.
Increasingly, there are programs that help make that happen.
"We have more programs and people who care about our companies than just about any other state," Russo said, urging those interested in developing the economy to get out there, get to know people, build a network of resources and ideas.
The event was brought to Craig by title sponsor, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc.; statewide sponsor, Colorado Workforce Development Council; regional partner sponsors, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Rio Blanco County and Memorial Regional Health; and media sponsor, the Craig Press.
"We are a state of pioneers who have worked hard for what we have; we welcome visitors and have been on the forefront of change," said EDCC Operations Director Kim Woodworth in her closing remarks.
She urged attendees to harness the most valuable and sought-after workforce available.
"Employers now are choosing workforce. If you build a (labor) pipeline they will come," she said.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.