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Commerce team wraps 2023 Paris Air Show mission eyeing future growth

PARIS — The Alabama Department of Commerce team wrapped up its mission to the 2023 Paris Air Show on Wednesday after gaining strategic insights into the dynamic trends reshaping the aerospace industry and uncovering potential new growth projects that could bring investment and jobs back home.

Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said he and his team engaged in at least 15 meetings with aerospace companies in Paris, most of them scheduled before the event. In addition, the team also participated in several informal and impromptu meetings with industry officials.

He said the air show team uncovered a half dozen potential growth projects as well as additional chances to develop industry partnerships.

“Thanks to these meetings, we identified potential projects ranging from new additive manufacturing advanced materials processing to new electrical wiring harness production,” Secretary Canfield said.

“Overall, we identified two possible expansion opportunities and three possible projects from companies that would be new entrants to Alabama,” he added.

In addition, the team identified a possible strategic alignment partnership for Alabama’s Robotics Technology Park in advanced laser applications and discussed a planned visit by the Swiss Aerospace Cluster set to take place to North Alabama in late August.

“Armed with what we learned in Paris, we’re going to be able to better position Alabama for aerospace industry growth not just now but also five or 10 years down the road,” Secretary Canfield said. “Our aerospace/aviation/defense sector has registered solid growth in the past few years, and it’s critical that we keep that momentum going.

“Our mission to the 2023 Paris Air Show will help us strengthen industry growth well into the future,” he added.

Bob Smith, Commerce’s aerospace industry specialist and a veteran of many European air shows, said the Alabama team heard from industry executives that workforce remains a key concern for many companies.

Also, the war in Ukraine and simmering global tensions have elevated activity in the defense sector — a definite opportunity for Alabama, where the biggest defense companies have major operations.

“Defense was much more focused this year, particularly with new products like hypersonics and precision munitions,” Smith said. “We have many companies in Alabama working in these spaces, and it was helpful to understand their strategy going forward and how that fits with Alabama.”

This trend is poised to add muscle to the defense sector in Alabama, where total defense spending reached $16 billion in 2019, according to an analysis by the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

AEROSPACE’S FUTURE

Smith said it was also important to get a better understanding of developing trends that could dictate the future course of the aerospace industry.

“The Paris Airshow, after a four-year hiatus, had a definite new twist in 2023,” he said. “Many displays in the past with exotic propulsion systems and radical designs are now starting to feel more mainstream,” he said. “Electric vertical take off and land prototypes (EVTOLS) were around every corner at the show.

“At the same, the airlines and the manufactures are all hyper-focused on achieving a sustainable fuel solution for the industry,” Smith added. “The models and prototypes we used to think of as “Star Wars”-type designs are looking much more mainstream today — and that includes drones, especially on the defense side.”

Commerce’s overarching objective at the air show was to build on the $3.6 billion in new capital investment made by the industry in Alabama growth projects since 2016, which generated over 8,300 job commitments, according to the department’s data.

In addition to Commerce’s team, other Alabama cities and regions were represented at the event, including Huntsville, Mobile, the Birmingham region, Decatur, Montgomery and Auburn/Opelika.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

For economic development specialists from these areas, the 2023 Paris Air Show represented a valuable chance to connect with industry decision-makers.

David Russell, a partner with the Birmingham Business Alliance, said attending the event revealed the aerospace opportunities that are available and showed him just how important developing and nurturing industry relationships are.

“So, by coming here and building on those relationships, I realize that over time something can happen,” Russell said. “I’m really just trying to tell Birmingham’s story, to let people know that Birmingham does have more — more opportunity, more advantages, more talent.

“We want to let people know that Birmingham is open for business, and the only way we’re going to do that is to do be here and have those face-to-face conversations,” he said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

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