Chris Roybal (copy)

Chris Roybal, center, head of the newly named Northern Utah Economic Alliance, speaks June 26, 2019, in Salt Lake City, when his selection as head of the entity was announced.

It is no exaggeration to say that Northrop Grumman’s expansion in Northern Utah is one of the most significant economic development wins in state history. The economic impact is estimated to generate approximately $1.2 billion annually and create approximately 3,000 new, high-paying jobs. With these eye-popping numbers, there is no doubt that the company and its operations will be an economic boon for Northern Utah for decades to come.

Winning the work

Northrop is expanding its operations because it recently won the U.S. Air Force’s nine-year, $13.3 billion contract to engineer and manufacture a replacement for the country’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrence (GBSD) system. GBSD is the land-based portion of the United States nuclear triad. The nuclear triad is critically important to U.S. national security and includes nuclear weapons designed to deter the nation’s greatest enemies from launching an attack.

The two final contenders for the GBSD contract were aerospace juggernauts Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Ultimately, Northrop’s ability to leverage Utah’s unique assets in human and physical capital gave it a competitive advantage that led to the win. Northrop and its heritage companies like Utah-based Orbital ATK have supported, sustained and modernized the U.S. Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) systems since the 1950s. In Utah, Northrop Grumman continues to provide ICBM sustainment activities that keep the existing systems viable until they are replaced.

Northrop Grumman selects Northern Utah for GBSD headquarters

When Northrop Grumman began its search to identify a location for the GBSD program, Utah naturally rose to the top of the list. Northern Utah was able to successfully show it had a highly skilled workforce, critical infrastructure and well-developed supply chains. These differentiators were critical in helping Northrop stay on schedule and within budget for the planned delivery of the first missile in 2029. Another draw for Northrop was the opportunity to locate the GBSD program near Hill Air Force Base.

While familiar with the name, many people may be unaware of how important Hill Air Force Base is to Utah’s economy. The base represents over 50% of Utah’s defense sector and contributes nearly $4 billion to state GDP annually. Hill Air Force Base is Utah’s largest single-site employer and an economic driver for the region.

Northrop Grumman could have placed the GBSD program at any of its other U.S. locations, but it chose Utah. Credit needs to be given to state and local officials, the Military Installation Development Authority, Woodbury Corporation, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for the role they played in getting the deal across the finish line. Team Utah came together seamlessly and collaboratively to send a message that Northern Utah was the right choice. It paid off.

A robust physical footprint

The new GBSD campus will include four buildings totaling 900,000 square feet of Class A office space. The first building, a 218,000-square-foot facility in Roy, is finished. Construction of buildings two and three is underway. These Northrop Grumman buildings anchor Woodbury Corporation’s Falcon Hill development.

The Falcon Hill Aerospace Research Park is the largest Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) in the Air Force and one of the largest commercial EULs in the Department of Defense. It comprises 550 acres, almost 5 miles of I-15 freeway frontage at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Currently, Falcon Hill has over 1 million square feet of commercial space completed and under development.

Privatization of military bases is not new, but Hill Air Force Base’s flexibility to move the fence around is a new and innovative approach. The Falcon Hill Aerospace Research Park will allow aerospace and tech companies to cluster together near the heart of the industry in Utah. This development was an attractive local resource for Northrop Grumman during the site selection process.

Bottom line

As the largest aerospace and defense employer in Utah, Northrop Grumman plays a critical role in keeping the fast-growing industry healthy. The creation of 3,000 new jobs and projected direct capital investment of $380 million over two decades is huge for Utah. As the head of an organization promoting quality job growth and increased capital investment, I am deeply optimistic about the long-term benefits to our local community that this important industry partner brings.

Chris Roybal is the president of the Northern Utah Economic Alliance and former head of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.

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