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State Sen. Steve Livingston sees opportunity to strengthen Alabama’s aerospace and defense industry

State Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) is looking to give Alabama’s aerospace and defense industry a boost.

Livingston is leading the formation of a new legislative group focused on the needs of an industry which generates billions for Alabama’s economy and is vital to national security.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, he outlined that the Aerospace and Defense Caucus will be a bipartisan committee assembled to promote growth for the aerospace and defense industry in Alabama.

The number of jobs and amount of resources at stake make this effort a high priority for legislators from across the state, according to Livingston.

“Aerospace and defense is a more than $16 billion business in Alabama,” he explained. “We have more than $4 billion in exports, as well. That’s a huge industry in Alabama, and it’s going to do nothing but continue to grow.”

He believes the time is right to step up the state’s support given the Trump administration’s interest in space exploration.

“We have an excellent opportunity to play a key role in what will be the Space Command that President Trump stood up for last year and that they are trying to find a home for,” noted Livingston.

Livingston’s North Alabama state senate district includes parts or all of Madison, Jackson and DeKalb Counties, and he has a keen understanding of how much his area has contributed to America’s space program.

“Huntsville and Madison County have always played a key role in everything we’ve done in space, and I think we’ll continue to do so,” he said.

Yet, he emphasized the statewide impact of the work the Aerospace and Defense Caucus will set out to do.

In addition to Huntsville and its surrounding areas, he cited Mobile, Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Pike County among the different communities in the state supporting the industry.

“It’s exciting to see what’s happening in Alabama,” remarked Livingston. “Look at what we’re doing. We sent man to the Moon out of Marshall Space Flight Center. And what happens at Redstone with our nation’s military defense systems. If a member of the military gets it, it comes through Huntsville. We’ve got aviation command there. We’ve got Ft. Rucker which trains all of our helicopter pilots, and Maxwell Air Force Base has the War College. Auburn and Alabama do avionics and autonomous vehicles in both locations. The University of South Alabama with Airbus and Austal in Mobile.”

One of the responsibilities he expects the caucus to assume is to work with members of Alabama’s congressional delegation on what are largely federal programs.

“We’ll work with everyone’s office in Washington,” advised Livingston. “This is a bipartisan committee.”

In particular, he recognized Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) leadership in building America’s space program.

“The truth of the matter is there’s no telling what Senator Shelby has meant to the aerospace and defense industry not only in Alabama but overall for the nation’s defense and space program,” Livingston stated.

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The Aerospace and Defense Caucus is set to meet for the first time on Wednesday when Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth calls the group to order. Livingston said that he received encouragement to start the caucus from Ainsworth, who currently serves as the national chairman of the Aerospace States Association, and members of the industry in Alabama.

Livingston believes it is beneficial to bundle aerospace and defense issues together for the caucus to consider. He called the two industries “interconnected” in the present day due to shared missions and technologies.

The nation saw evidence of this recently when President Donald Trump credited an early warning system with saving lives in Iraq. The system was made up of Lockheed Martin satellites carried into space by United Launch Alliance rockets. Both companies have significant manufacturing operations in Alabama.

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Upon announcing his intention to launch the caucus, Livingston said he received immediate feedback from 60 to 70 legislators who wanted to participate. He expects even more than that to ultimately join.

As for the type of issues the Aerospace and Defense Caucus seeks to tackle, Livingston has a few already in mind.

He said the state currently does not have any research and development assistance in its economic development plans.

“Primarily, one of the things that we could do would be provide some research and development credits that would help a company locate to Alabama.” Livingston offered.

Building off of the state’s workforce development successes is another priority for the committee, according to him.

When asked about the importance of two-year and four-year college programs specifically tailored for aerospace and defense, Livingston was quick to respond.

“Huge,” he called them. “There are already programs in place. The Alabama Cyber School that’s opening in Huntsville is already in place.”

He referenced the numerous programs supported by Gov. Kay Ivey to bolster the state’s aerospace and defense workforce. Livingston thinks there are even more programs that can be developed by the business and education communities.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

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The ability to help small businesses who support the aerospace and defense industry may also be on the agenda for the caucus.

“There are a lot of smaller companies out there that do a lot of supply work for this industry in communities like Scottsboro and other places,” Livingston pointed out. “We have a small company in Skyline, Alabama, that has done some machining and tooling for NASA. They have a contract which grew out of a Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce initiative that was done a few years ago on how to do business with NASA.”

Feeling there is no shortage of ways to enhance the state’s position in space and defense, Livingston looks forward to working with his colleagues to move the industry forward.

“It’s exciting to see the future come to Alabama,” Livingston concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia