Aerospace Companies Soar in Charlotte USA
In 2010, Michelin Tire invested more than $11 million to expand its Norwood operation near Charlotte, NC, where it added aviation tire retreading to its aircraft tire manufacturing plant.
With its prime location in the center of major original equipment manufacturers, Charlotte USA is giving wing to a thriving aerospace cluster.
A growing roster of companies is discovering what Michelin, Curtiss Wright, Goodrich Corp. and 130 others in the sector have found – that Charlotte USA provides the skilled workforce, logistics advantages and network of suppliers that put the region in the sweet spot for aerospace growth, investment and jobs.
More than 20,000 workers are employed in the region’s diverse aerospace industry, which includes companies involved in avionics, composites, metals, engine systems, interior products and control systems. Proving that success breeds success, the region’s aerospace segment has been bolstered by a string of recent investment and location announcements. Among the highlights:
- United Technologies Corp., which is acquiring Goodrich, will move its division headquarters – and 325 jobs – to Charlotte, investing $4 million. Goodrich also operates a reapir and overhaul center in Monroe, N.C.
- General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products has received a $23 million contract from Spirit Aerosystems to produce new winglets for corporate jets.
- Curtiss-Wright Controls Inc., a unit of aviation pioneer Curtiss-Wright Corp., announced in 2011 a $13 million expansion at its Cleveland County, N.C., motion-control operation that added 25 jobs. The company’s Motion Controls segment, one of its three main business units, is based in Charlotte. Its Controls Flight Systems unit has locations in Gaston County, N.C., as well as Cleveland County, where it also produces integrated subsystem solutions for aerospace, defense and other applications.
Additionally, the region is home to a catalog of suppliers providing components and specialty materials that serve the aerospace sector. Saertex, for example, manufactures ultra-light, non-crimp technical fabrics at its Huntersville, N.C., operation that are used in aircraft manufacturing and other industries.
Making Things Fly in Charlotte USA
In Stanly County, N.C., Michelin manufactures a product that might not be as glamorous as technical fabrics, but it’s one no land-based aircraft can do without – tires.
In 2010, the company invested more than $11 million to expand its Norwood operation, where it added aviation tire retreading to its aircraft tire manufacturing plant. Michelin employs 480 workers at the facility.
Oro Manufacturing also makes products that are absolutely essential to aviation. The company fabricates seats and cargo tie-down equipment for military aircraft at its 80,000-square-foot facility in Monroe, a location that puts it in proximity to major U.S. highway routes and within a few hours’ drive of key East Coast ports such as Wilmington, N.C., and Charleston, S.C.
Monroe began a concerted effort to attract aerospace investment in 2002 as part of a broader economic diversification program. Those efforts have created 3,000 jobs and yielded more than $600 million in aerospace investment from companies that include ATI Allvac, Goodrich and Turbomeca.
Southern Business and Development magazine named Monroe to its Top 10 Successful Aviation and Aerospace Clusters in the South for 2012, the second time it has garnered the recognition since 2010.
GM Nameplate, with facilities in Monroe, received authority in April 2012 to supply the Boeing Co.’s Charleston operations, where the aircraft maker is assembling its new 787 Dreamliner.
GM Nameplate custom designs and manufactures branding components including nameplates, decals, labels and custom panels. Its aerospace unit designs and manufactures mandatory markings and sub-assemblies
for the entire aircraft.
A Skilled Workforce
When aviation and other technology-based companies consider Charlotte USA as a location for their operations, they find a highly skilled workforce that includes more than 8,000 engineers, many of whom are UNC Charlotte graduates.
"Having a good, solid engineering school helps us bring in these companies,” says Robert Hocken, Ph.D., director of the university’s Center of Precision Metrology.
The center has close working relationships with companies such as Boeing, jet engine makers General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and others.
Community and technical colleges also keep the region on the cutting edge of innovation. South Piedmont Community College’s Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing Training Center in Monroe, for example, provides training in mechatronics, industrial maintenance, robotics, programmable logic controllers and avionics.
In 2011, Central Piedmont Community College launched a two-year, cross-disciplinary degree program in mechatronics, an area that combines skills in the mechanical, electrical and computer fields.
“Employers want to know there are going to be educated employees,” says UNC Charlotte’s Hocken. “They want to know there’s a good infrastructure.”
The 16-county Charlotte region offers a number of advantages that have helped make it a major center of aerospace operations.
- 130: Aerospace and defense companies in the region
- 20,000: Aerospace employment in the region
- 8,000: Number of engineers in Charlotte USA
For more on the aerospace industry in Charlotte USA at the Charlotte Regional Partnership