HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Utah’s reputation for having a thriving aerospace and defense industry, anchored by Hill Air Force Base, has earned the state $5 million from the Department of Defense.
On Monday, the DOD announced it would supply the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development with a $5 million grant, to be put toward an $11 million project aimed at further developing Northern Utah’s regional defense industry. The effort will focus on carbon composites and advanced materials, according to a DOD news release, and will include several initiatives to strengthen workforce development across the “Utah Defense Manufacturing Community,” including developing defense manufacturing apprenticeship programs and retraining workers displaced as a result of COVID-19.
GOED Media Relations Director Tony Young said Utah was named as one of six Defense Manufacturing Communities in the nation as part of the Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program, which is managed by the DOD. Programs under the Utah initiative are still being fine tuned but will focus on building the industry’s workforce, buoying supply chains, funding research and helping small businesses in the industry get off their feet.
“This is big news for Utah’s growing aerospace, defense and manufacturing industry,” GOED Executive Director Val Hale said in a statement. “We look forward to the opportunities and the economic impact this will bring to our state.”
According to numbers provided by GOED, Utah’s aerospace industry already makes up a significant piece of the state’s economy. The industry accounted for 944 businesses and 31,390 employees as of the end of 2019, GOED figures show. The sector includes jobs in design, composites manufacturing, software and control systems, testing, and repair and maintenance — all of which support regional and national air service as well as advanced space systems.
The industry in general, and particularly with the new composites-emphasized program, is bolstered by Hill, as the base’s 388th and 419th fighter wings operate the Air Force’s first operational F-35 combat outfit.
Hill was selected as the Air Force’s preferred home for the F-35 in December 2013 after a four-year environmental review process. The first two operational F-35As arrived at Hill in September 2015. The base received approximately one to two jets every month until reaching its full fleet of 78 late last year. The wing’s three squadrons — the 4th, 34th and 421st — each have 24 F-35As, with another six backup aircraft stored at the base.
Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex also provides maintenance, modification and repair for the fifth-generation fighter jet as the Air Force’s only depot maintenance facility for the plane. The ALC works on the F-35 for all service branches and some foreign countries that operate it.
And the jet relies heavily on composite parts to keep it in the air. According to manufacturer Lockheed Martin, F-35 wing skins, engine housings, access covers and more are made from composites. About 35% of the jet’s total weight is from composite material.
An Economic Impact Statement released by Hill earlier this year says work done at Hill creates an estimated 30,000 indirect aerospace and defense jobs off base, worth $1.5 billion, as the base relies on Utah companies to perform work in avionics, propulsion systems, composites and software, aircraft and missile maintenance.
Ogden City officials are also banking on the fact that the state’s aerospace industry will help bring the Ogden-Hinckley Airport toward financial solvency.
The municipal airport has been a financial burden for the city, subsidized by as much as $750,000 per year during the 2010s. The subsidies have been reduced in recent years, but the city still loses about $320,000 per year running the airport, according to city council documents.
The city is currently working on a 20-year master plan for the airport, which will serve as a guide for continued development at the facility. The aim of the plan is to transform the airport into an economic engine for the region by serving general aviation, growing commercial air service and recruiting aeronautical businesses. The plan includes a host of development objectives, from acquiring adjacent parcels of land and redeveloping hangars to building new road entrances and expanding the facility’s flight line.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell says attracting aerospace companies is one of the most essential pieces of moving the airport toward solvency.
Earlier this month, Williams International announced it would expand its operation at the airport, bringing up to 300 new jobs over the next seven years.