Indiana is perhaps best known for its Hoosier hospitality and endless fields of corn.
Few know the state is also home to a thriving aerospace industry. That’s right – rockets.
In 2016, Indiana was ranked sixth in the nation as one of the most attractive states for aerospace manufacturing, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Just one year before, it was ranked 18th.
“It is an under-recognized, maybe under-appreciated, sector of Indiana’s economy,” said Ryan Metzing, executive director of the Indiana Aerospace and Defense Council.
Aerospace, as defined by Metzing, is a broad industry comprised of companies that design, manufacture or service aircraft. Aerospace technologies range from military to commercial use, developing drones, aircraft and satellites.
“Statewide, we’re seeing growth,” he said. “I think the commercial aerospace aviation sector is doing really well. That sector is projecting huge growth over the next 10 years or so.”
With aircraft orders lined up for the next decade, Metzing believes Indiana’s aerospace industry is poised for success.
“I think a lot of it has to do with some of the investment that had been going on here,” he added. “All of the deals over the past three or four years brought in more than $1 billion of investment in Indiana.”
Rolls-Royce Corp. and Alcoa, two of the state’s largest aerospace companies, made significant investments in 2015. Rolls-Royce dedicated $600 million for redevelopment at its Indianapolis location, while Alcoa doubled its capacity after starting construction on a new jet engine parts facility in La Porte.
Collectively, the companies employ almost 9,000 Hoosiers. Many of those, Metzing noted, are experienced manufacturers.
“Indiana has the strongest manufacturing workforce per capita in the nation – more than 17 percent,” he said. “When you take how strong we are in manufacturing in general, and then marry that with some of these major aerospace investments – that helped to boost our ranking.”
The Wabash Valley has several aerospace/aviation related industries. Brazil, in Clay County, is the home to Britt Aero, which makes production-machined components for the aerospace industry.
Terre Haute Regional Airport is home to Tri-Aerospace LLC, which also makes machined prototypes and production-ready components for the aerospace industry. The airport also is home to Stark Industries, which makes machined components for aerospace and unmanned systems.
There’s also GE Aviation in Terre Haute, which makes specialized components for commercial and military aircraft.
Anderson inventor Pete Bitar isn’t surprised Indiana is ranked so high on the list. Bitar created AirBuoyant, an aerospace company that specializes in personal flight. In his 11 years of experience, he’s watched Indiana’s aerospace industry transform.
“We’re starting to see things like Amazon delivering packages with drones, electric vehicles that you fly in an urban environment,” Bitar said. “You’re seeing these new frontiers develop based on the new technologies and capabilities from the market today that weren’t there five to seven years ago.”
But Bitar isn’t completely satisfied with Indiana’s recent success.
“We don’t have a lot of headquartered aerospace companies in Indiana,” he pointed out. “That’s the challenge looking forward. And I’m hoping in some small way I can contribute to that.”
Though his local business is small, Bitar hopes he can be an example to prove it’s possible to come up with innovative ideas and keep them close to home.
“We’re developing an electric jet pack for personal flight that you can wear and fly around in, with no fuel,” he said. “If we can develop what I’m developing and manufacturing here in Madison County, that can then be applied to other companies and other ideas coming through in the aerospace field.”
Metzing agreed – having a diverse aerospace industry across the state will be beneficial in the long run, no matter the company’s size.
“It provides a nice opportunity to grow some of those smaller communities,” Metzing said, “if we can get the aerospace companies to continue their growth.”