Indiana Is Lifting the Future of Flight

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While on the floor of the Farnborough International Airshow, the world’s largest exhibition dedicated to the aviation industry, it was clear to international industry leaders that Indiana is propelling the future of aerospace and aviation.

That’s because, from the unveiling of a new flight technology to the top companies exhibiting at the airshow, everything seemed to keep coming back to Indiana. When the new F-35 took the runway at the airshow to showcase its vehicle liftoff for the first time, Hoosiers were center stage, having built the plane’s propulsion system at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis.

I was privileged to join a group of 25 Hoosier business leaders and a delegation from the state including Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith and Indiana State Senator Brandt Hershman this summer in Farnborough, England, where Indiana hosted a booth to showcase the many aerospace innovations that are developing throughout the state.

While at the airshow, we had the opportunity to meet with top executives from companies like Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation, Alcoa, Raytheon and Praxair, which together have announced plans to invest more than $900 million into Indiana and to create more than 1,200 new Hoosier jobs. Rolls-Royce just celebrated 100 years in Indiana after announcing that it is investing nearly $600 million into its Indiana research and operations, marking the company’s largest U.S. investment in a decade. That’s while GE Aviation is opening a $100 million jet engine assembly plant in Lafayette, where it will be producing the new LEAP engine.

But perhaps what impressed me most was the number of smaller aerospace companies that are also taking flight across Indiana.

Take Key Electronics in Jeffersonville, for example, a manufacturer of electronic circuit card assembly that also specializes in product integration and testing and repair of electronics. The company’s president and CEO, Tom Hardy, says that Indiana has grown into the ideal place for him to build his aerospace business.

“The concentration of aerospace businesses in Indiana is just right,” said Hardy. “From southern Indiana, at Key Electronics we’re in close proximity to the companies that we need to supply and have access to top engineers and technicians from the state’s top universities. It’s been a perfect recipe for our success.”

Or look at Indianapolis-based Aerotronic. While at the airshow, Aerotonic announced the launch of its new unmanned, electric helicopter, which has the ability to carry multiple sensors in a fully-enclosed bay.

“Right now at Aerotronic we’re pioneering a new health management system amid other aerospace technologies to the drone space, and we’re doing it largely because of the environment for the industry here in Indiana,” said Neerav Shah, CEO at Aerotronic. “Everyone at Farnborough Airshow was fascinated with our new drone, which we wouldn’t have been able to innovate and create in a place that’s tougher to do business. The workforce and the business climate here make Indiana perfect.”

Companies like Key Electronics and Aerotonic are helping propel Indiana’s economy to new heights. Indiana is now ranked as the most attractive state in the nation for aerospace manufacturing by global professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Meanwhile, the state's aircraft and spacecraft exports have increased at an average annual rate of nearly 30 percent since 2002, and are lifting Hoosier employment to peak levels.

At the Purdue Research Foundation, we’re proud to be part of the statewide network that’s supporting the incredible growth we’re seeing today across Indiana. This year we officially opened the new Purdue Research Park Aerospace District, which provides greater opportunities for aerospace entrepreneurs and businesses to collaborate with Purdue students and researchers on R&D projects, again putting Indiana at the forefront of aerospace innovation.

Industry leaders are noticing Indiana’s incredible momentum. That’s why the Aerospace Industries Association announced that it plans to bring its Supplier Management Council conference to Indiana, where more than 300 of the nation’s top aerospace and defense manufacturers – many of them already in Indiana anyway –  will come together to discuss the future of the industry.

Today Indiana is engineering the future of flight, developing new technologies that will power the world into the 21st century. Its wheels up for the aerospace industry in Indiana. We’re now boarding.

Dan Hasler is president of the Purdue Research Foundation.

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