No. 5 Aerospace & Defense MEGAREGION

A Workforce Rising in Dominance


By Rodney Campbell

Aerospace and defense are a cornerstone of the Southern Arizona economy, with more than 200 companies representing the industry. This valued sector is only rising in dominance as this region is now home to the fifth-highest concentration of aerospace and defense employees in the country.

“Aerospace and defense companies offer high wages, at every level, for all our citizens,” said Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc. “These industries lead to a stronger economic foundation for all.”

Anchoring the megaregion first and foremost is Raytheon Missiles & Defense, the largest private employer here and a kingpin of our regional economy. With a Tucson campus of roughly 15,000 people, Raytheon provides the most advanced solutions to detect, track and engage threats. Once the vision of famed aviator Howard Hughes, the defense giant just celebrated 70 years in Southern Arizona.

As Wesley D. Kremer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, told BizTucson: “We’ve created a hub of technology right here in our own backyard in Tucson.”

Here’s a look at several other aerospace and defense employers that make the region an industry hotspot:

Ascent Aviation Services provides maintenance, modification, storage and reclamation services on transport category aircraft in the aviation industry at Tucson International Airport and Pinal Air Park near Marana. Ascent is a critical supplier of these services to airlines, leasing companies and fleet managers across the globe.

Located at Tucson International Airport, Bombardier’s service center plays a crucial role in the company’s service center network. The facility provides an all-encompassing array of services for customers, including scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, interior modifications, avionics installations, paint and aircraft on-ground support for Bombardier Learjet, Challenger and Global aircraft.

An Onto Innovation Subsidiary, 4-D Technology in Tucson is a leader in precision, instantaneous 3-D measurement with applications for premier observatories to manufacturing plants to aircraft flight lines. In 2020, 4-D announced a strategic partnership with Aerontii, an aerospace and defense industry firm, to lead business development and expansion activities of its new automated visual inspection tools for the aerospace market. The 4-D measurement technology makes possible entirely new classes of instruments that change how manufacturers and scientists think about measurement. 

FreeFall Aerospace develops antenna technology for satellite communications, fixed and mobile ground stations, aerial platforms and a variety of commercial and government applications. The company, which began its work based on research in high-frequency radio astronomy at the University of Arizona, has expanded its headquarters in midtown Tucson and has created a collaborative culture that emphasizes creativity, teamwork, inclusion and innovation.

Located near Oro Valley since 1985, Honeywell Aerospace is one of the leading providers of avionics, engines, systems and service solutions for aircraft manufacturers, airlines, business and general aviation industries, and military, space and airport operations. The company offers a range of commercial, defense and space products, systems and services to the aerospace industry. Its products can be used in a variety of applications, including single-engine, piston-powered airplanes; military and space vehicles; and other commercial applications.

A provider of technologies for defense and commercial applications, Leonardo Electronics in 2020 announced plans to expand its regional presence in a new Oro Valley facility. The company purchased land in Innovation Park and is planning construction of a semiconductor laser manufacturing facility. LEI, formerly known as Lasertel, has been in the Tucson region since 2009. The Innovation Park location will house approximately 120,000 square feet of manufacturing and administrative offices. Leonardo’s laser operations are currently located in Marana.

One of 17 sites in the United States, Meggitt has a location in Oro Valley. Meggitt is an aerospace and defense company with headquarters in the United Kingdom. Its four global divisions include more than 9,000 employees across 37 offices. Its capabilities include expertise in airframe and engine systems; energy and equipment, and services and support.

Northrop Grumman Defense Systems’ autonomous and tactical air systems business sector is located in Sierra Vista. It’s the headquarters to the company’s Virtual Augmented Mixed Reality Aircraft Sustainment Ecosystem technology. VAMRASE is designed to support training and operations by fusing data content with technology to ensure operational readiness of personnel and supporting weapons systems.

Universal Avionics’ 165,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Tucson is home to electronic assembly, test and repair facilities, which build and support its avionics products for customers around the world. The company is moving products and technologies from its parent company, Elbit Systems in Israel, into its Tucson facilities. The company also has a hangar at Tucson International Airport that houses its corporate aircraft, which it uses to test and demonstrate its navigation, communication, recording and display products.

Sargent Aerospace and Defense’s Marana campus measures 132,000 square feet. Sargent is a designer and manufacturer of precision‐engineered hydraulic assemblies, bearings and sealing rings serving the broader aerospace and defense industry. The company’s products are used in a variety of applications on airplanes, helicopters and nuclear submarines.

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