Ohio's aviation industry hoping to get on Kasich's radar

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March 10--John Kasich, like governors before him, visited Detroit in January to meet with the leaders of the "Big Three" automakers on one of his first out-of-state trips as chief executive of Ohio.

Ohio's aerospace and aviation industry, which ranks a close second to the automotive industry in terms of employment, with an estimated 100,000 workers, would like the same kind of attention.

The state is already a top supplier to manufacturers Boeing and Airbus, is home to the world's largest private-jet firm, and boasts two federal research laboratories -- the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton and the NASA Glenn Center in Cleveland.

Members of the Ohio Aviation and Aerospace Council, which met earlier this week, say it would be valuable to have the governor meet with executives of companies such as Boeing and Airbus, which represent a growing, high-tech industry, rather than always associating Ohio with the auto industry.

There are positive signs for those who share that wish: An Aerospace Day for lawmakers is planned at the Statehouse today, with more than 200 business leaders and 50 legislators scheduled to attend.

A new 40-member bipartisan aviation caucus has been formed in the state legislature.

The aviation council, formed at the direction of Gov. Ted Strickland, met with the state's new development leaders this week to make its case for continued support.

Aviation leaders are confident that an industry that sends jets around the world and rockets into space can fuel economic growth here in Ohio.

"A lot of other regions would love to have what we have in Ohio," said Don Majcher, vice president of the Cleveland-based Ohio Aerospace Institute that organized today's event, the group's second since 2008. Organizations represented will include NASA Glenn, Boeing's operation in Heath and Cincinnati-based GE Aviation.

A window of opportunity exists for Ohio to get in on several key trends, said Jeff Rolf, vice president of marketing and aerospace commercial programs for Cleveland-based parts maker Parker Hannifin.

"The quickest opportunity is in unmanned aircraft systems, something they're already involved with at the Air Force Research Lab. You also have business jets forecast to come back by 2014 and the airliner manufacturers all working on major new commercial aircraft launches," Rolf said. "That can mean jobs now, opportunities for everything from small machine shops to research-and-development work."

The state also needs to keep an eye on federal money because of the long-brewing Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization bill, said Bob Tanner, vice president of corporate and government affairs for Columbus-based NetJets.

The bill contains grant funding that institutions such as Ohio State University have tapped. For the past two years, OSU has received $100,000 to study airport-safety management and develop procedures that will be implemented by airports across the country.

A big part of the challenge: raising awareness of Ohio's role in aviation when the state doesn't have completed jets rolling off an assembly line. It's hard for people to appreciate that the jet flying overhead might well contain a GE engine assembled in Cincinnati, or that its fuel and brake systems come from Cleveland.

"Once we get through educating the 132 people in the legislature, then we'll start on the 12 million people of Ohio," said Sen. Jason Wilson, one of the founders of the Ohio aviation caucus. "Aviation is critical to Ohio's economy."

mrose@dispatch.com

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