Huntsville: A hive of activity in aerospace and defense

[MarketScreener] If a single image could capture the defense and aerospace industry, it might be the view from Melissa Morrison-Ellis’ office at the Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Alabama.

‘You can look outside the window and see not just the Saturn V mockup at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, but industry partners, competitors and customers. They’re all right there,’ said Morrison-Ellis, who leads Raytheon Missiles & Defense’s work in a joint effort with Northrop Grumman to build the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Next-Generation Interceptor.

The building where Morrison-Ellis works – once a small outpost staffed mostly by engineers – is now part of what has become a hugely important location for Raytheon Technologies. The Huntsville area, in fact, is the only place in the world where all four Raytheon Technologies businesses – Raytheon Missiles and Defense, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney – and the company’s corporate functions have a physical footprint.

That footprint includes more than 54,000 square feet of space for automated and advanced manufacturing. But that’s just the brick and mortar. The real story is the work that takes place inside. Raytheon Technologies’ Huntsville employees work on many major initiatives, including:

The company has also increased its investment in the community – most recently, with the announcement of a $4 million grant to a new residential high school for students pursuing careers in cybersecurity and engineering.

It takes some smart people to pull all that off.

‘There’s probably more Ph.Ds and engineers in this town than there are in Silicon Valley,’ said Ken Spencer, the site lead for Pratt & Whitney in neighboring Madison, Alabama, where the business does specialty coatings for the aerospace industry. ‘This is a tremendous place.’

Spencer will admit to exaggerating just a little, but the data show he’s on to something: There are a lot of aerospace engineers in Huntsville. About 3,300, in fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They’re also the top earners in town, averaging about $57 an hour.

Raytheon Technologies’ Huntsville-area locations employ about 1,000 people, including more than 500 engineers as well as those who work in administration, manufacturing and functional support. The company has plans to hire hundreds more.

Newer hires – people in their first five years of service – account for nearly half the company’s Huntsville workforce, while about a quarter have been around a decade or two. No matter where they are in their careers, those who make Huntsville home enjoy the advantages that have led U.S. News & World Report to rank the city among its best places to live in the U.S., including a developing downtown, an active arts scene, lots of outdoor activities and a comparatively low housing cost.

Huntsville is a good place to build an aerospace and defense career, Morrison-Ellis said. She grew up in New England and moved to Huntsville in 2018 to manage one of the company’s radar programs. When she did, she kept reminding herself that if the radar job didn’t work out, something else nearby probably would.

It did work out, and something even better came along afterward – she was promoted to her director position.

‘I am proof of the growth opportunity currently here in Huntsville,’ she said. ‘That’s typically at the top of our pros and cons list when considering a life-changing move of this kind,’ she said.

Those kinds of advancement opportunities abound in Huntsville, which is also an important hub for customers including the U.S. Army and NASA, as well as a diverse network of suppliers. What sets Raytheon Technologies apart from its peer defense and aerospace companies is that employees have the ability – and some might even say the imperative – to collaborate with colleagues across four distinct businesses.

Evidence of that collaboration is clear in the daily call between leaders of Raytheon Technologies’ Huntsville contingent. On that call, they discuss new opportunities, the status of existing programs, upcoming activities to support local community organizations – and areas where they could use a hand. Often, that call ends with one business offering another a few extra hands or the use of their facilities.

While that’s not unusual for Raytheon Technologies, it’s highly uncommon in the industry, said Patti Dare, the company’s Huntsville site executive. And she should know – by the time she joined the legacy Raytheon Company in late 2019, she was already a veteran of the industry and a longtime Huntsville-area resident.

‘It’s been amazing to me,’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen cooperation like this anywhere. I’ve never seen anything like this culture or this environment.’