BRETTON WOODS — New Hampshire’s aerospace industry currently employs some 7,000 people and accounts for about 4 percent of the state’s gross domestic production, a figure that could jump into the stratosphere thanks to an agreement with a Canadian organization that is looking to create an “aerospace corridor” extending the length of New England.
In December, Aero Montreal, whose goal is to “establish preferred relations among aerospace clusters, increase exchanges of information on local and international collaborative projects, and facilitate the monitoring of international developments,” signed pacts with the Vermont Aerospace & Aviation Association and the New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium (NHADEC).
During Monday’s work session of the 38th annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, which was held at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, the “aerospace corridor” was a main topic of discussion and featured remarks by representatives of Aero Montreal and the Aerospace and Defence Association of Prince Edward Island, each of whom urged attendees to look north for new opportunities.
Martin Lafleur, who is Aero Montreal’s senior director for innovation, human resources and defense and security, said the Greater Montreal region has the second-largest density of aerospace jobs in the world, with one out of 189 Quebec residents working in the industry. Aero Montreal, he said, has more than 200-member companies that work with 190 supporting manufacturers, all of whom cumulatively employ more than 40,000 workers.
Aero Montreal accounts for 55 percent of Canadian aerospace sales; 50 percent of jobs in the Canadian industry; and 70 percent of total spending on research and development, said Lafleur.
Despite its success, Aero Montreal continues to seek cross-border partners, he said, noting that in looking at the world scene from Quebec, the competition isn’t coming from the U.S., but from Mexico, Poland and China.
Lennie Kelly, the executive director of the Aerospace and Defence Association of Prince Edward Island, said his province’s aerospace boom began in the wake of the 1991 closing of the Canadian Forces Base Summerside.
Starting with just two companies, the base, now known as Slemon Park, boasts 10 aerospace companies, which have 900 employees.
Kelly noted that one firm there, MDS Coatings, already has a working relationship with Hooksett’s General Electric Aviation Co., which it assisted in helping extend the life of turbine rotors in Navy and Marine Corps helicopters.
Slemon Park, said Kelly, is “a success story that came out of a base closure,” adding, however, that some enlightened tax policies helped, too.
Christopher Wrenn, who is chairman of the NHADEC, said even though the Granite State aerospace consortium is still in its infancy, things are trending toward the positive.New Hampshire has some 300 aerospace and defense companies, said Wrenn, adding that 60 have joined NHADEC, which has helped some of them attend international aerospace expositions in addition to working on measures to protect intellectual property rights and deal with the often complicated regulatory scheme for exporting products.
Aerospace is big and could be bigger in New Hampshire, said Wrenn, pointing out that a study found that a job in the industry pays, on average, a salary of $94,000 a year.