Mississippi Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor
The Gulf Coast region is home to two substantial national aerospace assets: NASA Stennis Space Center and Keesler Air Force Base. Several established aerospace companies have also made the Gulf Coast region home, including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Rolls-Royce. Included in the area’s robust infrastructure are three international airports within 60 miles of each other along the Interstate corridor. The area also has competitive incentives for manufacturers, is a foreign trade zone, and has excellent workforce training programs.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is well known for its tourism and shipbuilding industries. Less well known is its role in the aerospace industry, which is considerable. It dates back to the 1960s with the establishment of a NASA rocket test facility in Hancock County, and continues to this day with the building of unmanned aerial vehicles in Jackson County.
South Mississippi is home to some of the biggest names in the aerospace industry, as well as aviation-focused technology parks and business incubators. It has a capable workforce and training programs designed to meet the needs of the industry. But what may be more significant is the way it all “fits together.”
Consider this: South Mississippi has leading-edge research and practical experience with composites that go into aircraft; it has plants that use composites to make a variety of products; it builds warships capable of launching robot aircraft; it has satellite builders whose high-flying craft and remote sensors are key to command and control as well as surveillance; and it has the companies that build the engines that power spacecraft and engine testing facilities. As one defense company executive said: “I think you’re finding our futures really are coming together here in quite an unusual way.”
With a high quality of life and low cost of doing business, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been a contender for some of the most high-profile projects in the aerospace industry.
South Mississippi’s aerospace infrastructure includes federal and university research units that focus on propulsion, remote sensing, visualization and scientific computing. It also has aerospace parks, military aviation bases, technology transfer offices and test ranges.
While Hurricane Katrina caused considerable damage to coastal areas, South Mississippi looked at it as an opportunity. Casinos and high-rise condos have returned, and areas along the coastline are building to higher standards and using some of the latest thinking in urban planning. Along Interstate 10, several projects are under way to create sci-tech communities with multi-disciplinary research, schools, university offices and residential housing built around walkable town centers. It’s become a laboratory in many respects. Indeed, it is where the future comes together.
Key Centers and Activities
Four fields of interest have developed along the Mississippi Gulf Coast: unmanned aerial vehicles (fixed-wing and rotary), composites, propulsion and geospatial (satellites, remote sensing applications).
UAV activities are found in the eastern part of the 76-mile stretch of Interstate 10 in Jackson County at the Jackson County Aviation Technology Park in Moss Point. Not far away is work in defense communications/electronics, optics and airport security systems at Sunplex Light Industrial Park.
Work in the field of composites can be found at Gulfport’s Bernard Bayou Industrial District in Harrison County, while other advanced material production is in Hancock County’s Port Bienville Industrial Park.
Propulsion and geospatial activities are clustered in and around NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center. Stennis is where engines for the space program are tested, but it’s also a center for geospatial work, including the building of satellites and satellite components. The expertise gained over the years led to the establishment of a joint geospatial research center just outside Stennis at the Stennis International Airport/Airpark, and Stennis Technology Park.
The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport is also a key aerospace facility. A major expansion includes the creation of the General Aviation Office and Light Industrial Park.
The products of the aerospace industry represent the sum of its parts, the materials, sensors, the power systems, the computers, communication systems and more. And it’s also how these products “mesh” with the broader world. It boils down to convergence: putting the parts together in a seamless whole and having it work well in real-world applications.
The importance of convergence is best illustrated by the defense industry. The current theory of warfare is Network Centric Warfare, which uses advanced information systems to tie the various elements of battle together in a coherent package. The biggest names in the industry have mirrored this development by acquiring interests in many of the elements that go into the broader whole, from satellites to propulsion systems and from ships to land vehicles. Like the aerospace industry, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has, over time, pulled together many of the elements that go into the aerospace industry. And they’re in high-growth areas as well.