Why the East Valley is No. 1 for aerospace manufacturing

Above: Northrop Grumman in Gilbert is one of the world’s preeminent satellite builders. Business News | 25 Apr |

To say the PHX East Valley is the proverbial “mothership” of aviation, defense and aerospace is an understatement. Collectively, the aerospace and defense industries account for 9,300 employment opportunities — most of which are located in Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. Additionally, the East Valley is  ranked No. 1 for aerospace manufacturing attractiveness, No. 2 for largest employment in space and defense manufacturing, and No. 4 for largest employment in aviation and aerospace manufacturing.

Dotting the PHX East Valley, are approximately 50 aviation, defense and aerospace companies. Among an impressive A-to-W list (starting with Able Aerospace and ending with Wiremasters) is Boeing, Cessna, KinetX, Inc., Lockheed Martin, and … one of the motherships — Northrop Grumman, which is making waves for its ongoing investment and expansion in the region.


READ ALSO: Here’s how Arizona leads the way in aerospace and defense


Expanding its satellite engineering and manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Northrop Grumman’s expansion will double the production capacity of high-quality space hardware and add approximately 200 jobs. This comes on the heels of the opening of Northrop Grumman’s 633,000-square-foot Launch Vehicles Division headquarters in Chandler. The company also operates an Armament Systems operation in Mesa.

As it continues to grow, Northrop Grumman is solving some of the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace for domestic and international customers, while also making a positive and measurable impact in the PHX East Valley and the state.

Space, land, air cyber and sea pioneers

In addition to being recognized for designing, developing and manufacturing some of the world’s most advanced, sophisticated and state-of-the-art spacecraft, Northrop Grumman also innovates and curates in the areas of air, cyber, land, and sea — producing battlefield combat vehicles, submarine systems, advanced electronic warfare and more.

“The expansion of our manufacturing operations in Gilbert has allowed us to meet increased customer demand for high-quality, flight-proven satellites, including several sciences and environmental spacecraft for NASA and other domestic customers,” says Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager for Northrop Grumman’s Launch and Missile Defense Systems Space Sector.

“In Chandler,” Lehr adds, “Northrop Grumman manufactures its Antares rocket, which has been used to send vital supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station aboard the company’s Cygnus spacecraft. We also support our nation’s missile defense programs by developing, manufacturing and providing launch services for several target programs.”

While Northrop Grumman goes to work tackling the complex needs of aeronautics, defense and cyberspace, the company also has a significant economic impact within the PHX East Valley (and beyond).

“Northrop Grumman’s large presence in the East Valley provides many benefits to Arizona’s communities and the state, specifically attracting a highly-educated workforce and increasing the median household income — which in Gilbert is $98,963, as of 2020,” says Brigette Peterson, mayor of Gilbert. “With an increase in expendable income, the East Valley and Arizona reap the benefits that Northrop Grumman employees continuously inject into the economy.”

According to Lehr, Northrop Grumman employs more than 3,000 people across the state of Arizona — and that number is growing).

“We currently have more than 100 active, open positions in Arizona,” Lehr says. “From entry-level technicians to engineers and people with financial skills. We also seek dozens of secret and top-secret cleared systems, electrical and software engineers for a variety of programs across the state.”

Talent and give and take

So what is it exactly, that makes the PHX East Valley perfectly positioned to house and grow aerospace dynamos such as Northrop Grumman (aside from a rich history in cultivating the aviation, defense, aerospace industries)?

“A major contributing factor is the highly educated talent pool from higher education institutions and nationally recognized K-12 school districts that support a strong STEM-focused talent pipeline,” Peterson says. “44.1 percent of Gilbert residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, which outpaces the national average of 33.1 percent. Gilbert is home to two higher education institutions, Park University and the University of Arizona, and is located close to Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus and Chandler-Gilbert Community College.”

Additionally, Peterson points out that within a 30-minute commute of Gilbert, approximately 70 percent of the Phoenix Metropolitan area’s high-tech workforce can be accessed — all of which is pivotal in providing talent to propel advancements in aerospace, aviation and defense.

And, while the PHX East Valley supplies a steady flow of skilled labor for companies like Northrop Grumman, they, in turn, reinvest into the region (in more ways than one).

“Northrop Grumman’s continued investment in Gilbert and the East Valley supports the continued growth of high-wage STEM occupations in a variety of industries,” Peterson says.

Community impact

In fact, according to Lehr, Northrop Grumman employees are active members of the community, and in addition to supporting STEM outreach initiatives, many volunteer their time to local charities.

“Northrop Grumman provides more than $100,000 in local donations to veteran, STEM, and environmental charitable organizations in Arizona,” Lehr says, “in addition to direct engagement and support of Chamber of Commerce and advocacy groups.”

In addition to Northrop Grumman, companies like GoDaddy, Lockheed Martin, Silent Aire, Deloitte, Footprint, and MOOG Space and Defense are helping to strengthen STEM in the PHX East Valley. And STEM anchors like Intel, Honeywell Aerospace, Apple, The Boeing Company, Iridium Communications Inc, and Able Aerospace Services (A Textron Company) are taking STEM efforts in the PHX East Valley to a whole new level of excellence, according to Peterson.

Beyond its contributions through business operations, Northrop Grumman also prides itself on its corporate citizenship and community involvement. The company leads and contributes to a number of educational initiatives to help foster the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math talent.

“More broadly, and across our locations globally, we focus heavily on environmental sustainability through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the use of renewable energy, water-use reduction and solid waste diversion,” Lehr says. “The stewardship is echoed through our employees and we are proud of their dedicated involvement in their communities and of our company’s track record as a good corporate citizen.”

New, exciting horizons

As Northrop Grumman continues to broaden its PHX East Valley horizons, what can we expect in terms of future developments?

“It’s an exciting time to be part of Northrop Grumman,” Lehr says. “Our work is critical, our employees are mission essential, and the systems we provide are foundational to connecting and protecting our world. As our programs continue to grow, so does our need for talented employees.”

And, while the PHX East Valley continues to supply the talent, Northrop Grumman’s growth and diverse opportunities undoubtedly will attract companies and industries of similar caliber.

“Continued investments by companies like Northrop Grumman help bring awareness to the tremendous opportunities in this region for educated talent,” Peterson says. “We offer a low cost of doing business, a business-friendly environment, and an unbeatable quality of life.”

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