Utah's aerospace and defense industries may have fallen on hard times but that isn't stopping the state's economic development visionaries from dreaming of the day when workers once again will be in widespread demand.
A new partnership made up of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, the Utah System of Higher Education and the Department of Workforce Services said Wednesday it is launching an initiative to help those industries survive, thrive and grow .
"When you hear about the Utah aerospace and defense industries, you get mixed reviews," said William Sederburg, Utah's commissioner of higher education. "There are some sectors that have fallen upon hard times, but there are others where workers still are in demand."
Although there have been similar efforts in the past, this initiative aims to be different because the state intends to maintain a dialogue with the industries that will keep everyone abreast of the educational and training opportunities that will need to be made available to potential workers.
"By focusing on work force needs, we will accomplish our goal of nurturing an environment where Utah companies can be successful and the business community can create jobs," Kristen Cox, executive director of the Department of Workforce Services, said in a statement announcing the "Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership."
There is plenty at stake because the aerospace and defense industries remain vital to the state's future. The sectors contribute more than $5.4 billion to the economy and employ more than 42,000 people. But Mark Knold, the agency's chief economist, said the aerospace industry in particular could use a boost, given that employment down 12 percent from the fourth quarter 2009 to the final quarter of 2008.
"It is a good industry to focus on, and it will be great if they can make the magic happen," he said.
T. Craig Bott is president of Grow Utah Ventures, which is serving as an adviser on the project. He said companies such as Alliant Techsystems that are focused on meeting the needs of the nation's space program are under siege because of the retirement the space shuttle fleet.
But Bott said there continues to be strong demand from the military for trained personnel who can overhaul aircraft at Hill Air Force Base, as well as maintain remote surveillance and attack drones, the unmanned weapons that many regard as the future of air warfare.
Coincidentally, the U.S. Department of Labor early last month announced that Utah would receive a grant of up to $1.2 million to use to help 1,600 former employees of Alliant Techsystems train for jobs in "emerging industries" such as clean energy.
Number of companies » 39
Annual revenue » $5.4 billion
Employment » 42,000
Key employers » Alliant Techsystems, L-3 Communications, Hill Air Force Base
Source: Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership
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