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Aerospace industry is Arkansas's leading export

There are many things in the state that bring big business, such as the booming aerospace industry in Arkansas. Some experts actually say that it's a hidden gem.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — The outside of the Airtech Supply building, focused on creating and fabricating airplane parts in Hot Springs, is quiet— but inside the building is a different story.

General Manager, Greg Hess, has been part of the reason for that noise.

He oversees the operations of the facility and explained that he's had a lifelong connection to the Aerospace industry.

"My grandfather worked on Gemini and Mercury, my father worked on Apollo," Hess said. "I worked on parts for the Space Shuttle."

Now, he works on a mix of parts in the Aerospace and Defense industries. From Boeing to Northrup Grumman, commercial parts to defense machinery, they're one of many building the future of the industry in Arkansas.

"We're kind of a small footprint, we're about 50 employees, but we do work globally," Hess said. "So it's kind of hard to tell here in Hot Springs that a little shop like that would do that kind of business."

They're not alone—  it's an industry that has been continuing to grow.

"There's probably approximately 600 people employed in Garland and Hot Springs County, just this area, making defense and commercial aerospace products," he said. "So, it's a good industry."

While that may be the case, it's likely not the first thing that comes to mind when you picture Arkansas.

"A hidden secret is that Arkansas, it really is an Aerospace and Defense export," Arkansas Secretary of Commerce, Mike Preston, said. "It's a leader nationally, if not globally, in aerospace and defense."

While the industry may be a hidden secret, its impact certainly isn't.

"Between all of those companies combined with the export numbers, that's billions of dollars of revenue generated every year for our state, in that one particular industry," Preston said.

According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission's Aerospace and Defense Report for 2022, the industry was the number one leading export last year. Those exports totaled 20% of Arkansas's total exports and were just over 1% of the entire United States exports in 2020.

"You know, we're in the heart of the country, we can get goods in and out fairly quickly," Preston said. "We don't have some of the log jams that other, you know, major metropolitan areas might have for this."

That's part of the reason why Hess is in Hot Springs, and why the industry has continued to grow. 

According to that same AEDC report, 7,000 people are employed across 48 companies like Airtech Supply.

"It's in my blood, and it kind of gets that way with people," Hess said. "People that are in this industry tend to stay in it and not deviate too much."

For Arkansas, Preston said that the goal is to keep growing the industry bigger than it already is.

"I remember the first time we took Governor Hutchinson to an air show in Paris, it was, you know, 'Who's Arkansas?' And, 'What are you guys doing here?'" Preston said. "But because we've been persistent these last couple years, it's, 'Hey, Arkansas!' You know, 'We know about you now!'"

Hess explained that they've already been seeing that growth firsthand.

"The business is there, the backlogs there, it's growing," he said. "It'll cycle down, probably another four or five years, but it'll be another four or five years of strong growth from here on out."

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