Saturday, October 30, 2010

Week in review (10/24 to 10/30)

In an age of global competition with so many players seeking to attract and maintain jobs, an interesting question was raised by the Wichita Eagle last weekend: "What is the worth of a well-trained work force?"

The headline posing the question was atop a story about the opening last week of Wichita's brand new $52 million, 230,000 square-foot National Center for Aviation Training, designed to help the city maintain its position in the aerospace industry. (Story)

Wichita has been an aerospace power for a long time. It was the top-ranked metro area for aerospace and defense manufacturing in Business Facilities magazine’s 2010 Rankings Report, ahead of Huntsville, Ala., Seattle, Wash., Charleston, S.C., and Fort Worth, Texas. (Story)

But there are some concerns about the future. Jobs have been lost over time due to a variety of factors, including outsourcing and automation. The latest concern is Hawker Beechcraft, which reportedly is looking at Louisiana for a new home.

The question: Can other states easily create a cheaper work force from scratch?

Well, "easily," perhaps not. But yes, it can be done. The paper points out that North Carolina did it for a Spirit AeroSystems plant that opened this year. And while the newspaper didn't point out this example, we have one right here on the Gulf Coast. South Mississippi creating an aerospace work force from scratch for the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss. (Story)

As the Wichita newspaper reported, expertise is worth a lot, but can be replaced if another location is willing to spend the money to train workers. It takes years to get the depth of expertise found in a place like Wichita – or Washington State, California or Huntsville for that matter – but given enough time, that eventually happens.

If anything, the fact that others can grow expertise underscores the point that the key is to find those combination of elements that set you apart from the crowd. And that's no small feat in an age when everyone seems focused on finding competitive advantage.

During the week, more than a dozen NASA and university scientists visited schools in the New Orleans area to encourage students to learn more about our Earth system and the importance of the view from space.

The scientists were in New Orleans for the "A-Train Symposium," named after a fleet of NASA satellites orbiting the planet to collect data on a variety of aspects of the Earth system, including the atmosphere, land surface and oceans. The conference began Monday and ended Thursday.

Efforts to interest students in careers in math and science are encouraging. The recently released "Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited," a follow-up to a report first issued in 2005, warns of the nation's slip in science and technology. And if you want one "factoid" that should make you shake your head, how about this: The U.S. graduates more visual arts and performing arts majors than engineers.

Ground was broken in Gulf Breeze, Fla., for a $10 million headquarters building for Avalex Technologies, which specializes in aerial surveillance equipment for the military and law enforcement. The company currently uses two buildings in downtown Pensacola, just across the bay from Gulf Breeze. It has 55 technicians and researchers and needed room to grow. The 9.2-acre site in Gulf Breeze was once was occupied by a new car dealership.

It’s clear Pensacola doesn’t see it as a loss. Gulf Breeze has long been a bedroom community for the Pensacola area, and workers go back and forth in a relatively short commute. The groundbreaking didn't have just Gulf Breeze officials, but Pensacola officials as well who see the new facility as a potential magnet for other high-tech businesses.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., conducted its second aircraft performance evaluation using a biomass-derived fuel, this time with an F-15 Eagle. The jet flew at a variety of flight conditions, achieved supersonic speeds, and landed with no issues.

The biofuel blend used for the Eagle flight was comprised of fifty percent Hydro-Processed Renewable Jet blend mixed with 50 percent JP-8. The HRJ was derived from extracted animal fats and oils, and then refined into a kerosene using conventional processes.

In March of this year, an A-10 flew on a 50/50 JP-8/HRJ blend derived from oil extracted from camelina seeds, a weed-like non-food source plant.

- The two millionth visitor to the Air Force Armament Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of Air Force armament, passed through the doors Oct. 21. The 28,000 square-foot museum opened to the public in the spring of 1976. The museum gets about 400 visitors per day, and during fiscal year 2010, some 123,000 people walked through the front doors.

- A full body scanner was shown at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport during the week. The airport brought in the Transportation Safety Administration's regional director to vouch for the new system and the privacy protections that are in place. Ray White showed reporters how the images are captured and the measures TSA takes to ensure no one can ever see what a specific traveler looks like.

The UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter built by EADS North America in Mississippi has surpassed the 40,000-flight hour milestone in operational service with the Army and Army National Guard. Built at the company’s American Eurocopter facility in Columbus, a total of 138 Lakotas have been delivered to date for fielding to Army, Army National Guard and Navy. The production plant is adjacent to the Golden Triangle Regional Airport. EADS North America also has operations in Mobile, Ala.

Cubic Defense Applications of San Diego has received more than $16 million in new orders this year for air combat training systems and spares. The new bookings provide P5CTS/TCTS training equipment for Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Eielson AFB, Alaska, Nellis AFB, Nev., Naval Air Station China Lake, Calif., NAS Fallon, Nev., and NAS Oceana, Va. … L3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, Madison, Miss., was awarded an $8.6 million contract which will acquire aircraft maintenance support services for wing and site training devices, ground instructional training aircraft, historical/static display aircraft, and maintenance of the 80th Flying Training Wing.