Aerospace Flies High in Michigan

A forgotten 1898 flight on a Michigan beach grows to the heart of an expanding industry

Augustus Herring is not a well known name in aviation history.

But it should be.

Herring, who lived in St. Joseph, Michigan, built a motorized biplane glider and flew it on a Lake Michigan beach Oct. 22, 1898.

It was not a controlled flight, according to Seeking Michigan, but the flight took him 73 feet down the beach in the air.

Five years later, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright would make the first controlled flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

One could argue Michigan is the “first in flight” state. And Herring broke the ground in terms of aerospace technology.

Today the Great Lakes State is a leader in the aerospace industry with more than 800 companies involved in the aerospace business.

Michigan has consistently been ranked as a Top 10 state in Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness by PricewaterhouseCoopers. In 2019, Michigan was ranked No. 4 in the nation for aerospace attractiveness, behind Washington, Georgia and California.

The high rating is attributed to Michigan’s “research and development in the aerospace industry supply chain,” according to PricewaterhouseCooper.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is an advocate of the aerospace industry, noting there are many reasons for aerospace businesses to locate in Michigan.

“Michigan’s proven manufacturing prowess, matched with our proven engineering, design and technical talent, make it the ideal location for the aerospace supply chain and engineering companies,” said MEDC Executive Vice President and Chief Business Development Officer Josh Hundt. “In the 2019 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Michigan ranked as best in the Midwest and fourth in the U.S. While the aerospace industry grew at 6.5% nationwide in 2017, it grew at 15.3% in Michigan.”

Hundt said similar to the state’s automotive industry supply chain, Michigan’s aerospace supply chain consists of many of the most innovative and capable suppliers in the industry.

“Michigan also has the nation’s most robust tool-and-die and manufacturing infrastructure, making it an attractive location for the aerospace supply chain and engineering companies to deliver solutions for the industry,” Hundt explained. “And the state’s metal fabrication, composite materials and manufacturing expertise provide the ideal infrastructure for delivering solutions to the aerospace industry.”

Hundt pointed out that Michigan’s business climate is one of the most favorable in the Midwest, partially because the state eliminated the personal property tax. Another factor was the resilient business climate, which helps attract high-tech companies.

Last year, Silicon Valley-based KLA, a semiconductor equipment manufacturer, chose Ann Arbor – from a list of 350 North American locations – to establish a research and development facility.

According to KLA officials, among the decisive reasons for building a major research and development hub in Michigan were Ann Arbor and the Detroit metropolitan area’s attractive talent pool, a low cost of living (compared to San Francisco) and proximity to Detroit Metro Airport and the logistical advantages that support KLA’s customers.

Although there is a predicted shortage of skilled trades workers, Hundt said that is not the case in the aerospace industry.

“With more than 18 educational institutions with aerospace- and aviation-related degrees and curriculum, Michigan has a pipeline of skilled workers,” he explained. “Michigan is ranked third in the nation for its pool of talent among occupations in primary demand by the aerospace and defense industries, with more than 260,000 employed in relevant occupations.

“Employment in these occupations grew 8% over the past five years from 2014 to 2018,” Hundt continued. “Michigan’s aerospace supply chain consists of many of the most innovative and capable suppliers in the industry; and as the aerospace industry continues to grow, we believe Michigan will continue to be a key location for aerospace supply chain companies from around the globe to do business.”

Caption: Augustus Herring with one of his early gliders, circa 1894. Herring made a powered flight in a motorized biplane along a Lake Michigan beach in 1898.

Photographer unknown, Wikimedia Commons, public domain



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