Georgia’s Aerospace Industry Reaching New Heights

Thressea Boyd

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles focused on the Georgia Department of Economic Development Centers of Innovation, which has six centers located throughout the state: Aerospace, Agribusiness, Energy Technology, Information Technology, Logistics, and Manufacturing.

The Centers of Innovation, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, is focused on helping industries and small businesses connect, compete, and grow globally.  

“The Georgia Centers of Innovation are an integral part of the state’s economic development efforts, and we are able to assist companies by making connections to the number of resources that either the university system, business community, or government agencies have access to,” said David Nuckolls, Global Account Manager with the Georgia Centers of Innovation. “In the most recent fiscal year, the Centers of Innovation collectively assisted more than 1,600 companies across the state.” 

Exclusive to Georgia, each of the six Centers of Innovation are a value added economic development service that has a separate industry focus: aerospace, agribusiness, energy technology, information technology, logistics, and manufacturing. However, the Centers of Innovation share common goals to provide technical expertise, build partnerships, and expand opportunities to compete nationally and globally.

“When we say that the Centers of Innovation are ‘exclusive to Georgia,’ we really mean that there is no other group that has the depth and breadth of scope that we have or covers the diversity of industry that we do, at least from a state level,” said Nuckolls. “From an individual with a dream to commercially sell their pepper jelly or pimento cheese, to helping a company break into the nanosatellite launching industry to helping large manufacturers develop better materials for their products, we really cover it all.” 

Center of Innovation for Aerospace 

With more than 500 aerospace companies and 88,000 jobs scattered across the state, Georgia is seeing tremendous growth in not only the commercial aviation market but space innovation and unmanned aircraft systems, which represents the “next frontier” in aerospace industry growth. 

Home to major aerospace manufacturers including Lockheed Martin and Gulfstream Aerospace, Georgia’s companies export $8.44 billion in aerospace products globally, ranking in the top five U.S states. 

The Center of Innovation for Aerospace has offices on the Macon campus of Middle Georgia State University, which has a top-ranked aviation program with 12 degree programs and 20 certificates, and at the Georgia Department of Economic Development located in Atlanta’s Tech Square. 

Steve Justice, the Center of Innovation for Aerospace director, said he and the Center’s team of aerospace experts help companies connect to new markets and technologies, compete in a growing global market, and expand their capabilities.

The state has an abundance of resources to facilitate current and future aerospace needs. These resources include one of the oldest and largest aerospace engineering programs in the nation at Georgia Tech, along with robust engineering programs at Georgia Southern University, Kennesaw State University, the University of Georgia, and Mercer University. As the state’s only aviation school, Middle Georgia State University provides a number of educational programs in areas like airport management and pilot training. Five Technical College System of Georgia institutions also have aviation programs that offer FAA approved training programs.  

Georgia’s colleges and universities conduct more than $500 million annually in technical research, with approximately 12 percent for specialized aerospace research and development. 

Justice said that working with the state’s universities and colleges represents a “push and pull” partnership that benefits industries and economic growth.  

“Universities and colleges are by their nature ‘technology push’ organizations. They create an idea, do research on it, then work to mature the technology and ‘push’ it out to the world,” said Justice. “The Centers of Innovation is a ‘technology pull’ organization. We work with companies to help identify their challenges, reach back to the universities and technical colleges to determine what resources they have that can serve the needs of the industry, and then develop joint innovation projects to assist the companies.”

For example, when Thrush Aircraft, based in Albany, Ga., wanted to expand its models to include a plane that could carry its own weight load, they requested assistance from the Center of Innovation for Aerospace.

The Center then provided technical expertise, partnership opportunities, and innovative solutions to help Thrush Aircraft reach its goal of developing a new aircraft model and becoming a leader in the market.

“We connected Thrush with GE Aviation to develop the new aircraft,” said Justice. “Then we helped them get their FAA certification through a series of flight tests coordinated with Middle Georgia State’s School of Aviation.”

Justice said that overall, the project created 40 new jobs and nearly $1 million in additional payroll to Thrush Aircraft, plus increased the company’s sales by more than 40 percent.

Georgia’s aerospace industry supports a significant proportion of the state’s economic activity, specifically through the creation of high-paying jobs. 

“Aerospace is a big industry in the state of Georgia,” said Justice. “It represents just under $51 billion in economic impact. These are high-paying jobs, and every aerospace job supports another 1.5 jobs within the state’s economy,” 

Georgia will continue to see economic growth in the aerospace industry, and the Center for Aerospace remains focused on three primary growth areas: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commercial space, and energy efficient aviation.

Worldwide the UAS market is predicted to grow to more than $10 billion annually by 2021. 

“We have been working to support UAS technology for six years,” said Justice. “In Georgia, we will see UAS used in agriculture, public safety, infrastructure inspection, and the film industry.”

The Center of Innovation for Aerospace is also working with public and private businesses to develop tangible ways to position Georgia in the emerging commercial space industry.

“We continue to expand our commercial space base in Georgia,” said Justice. “We have some local companies that are now developing small satellite horizontal launchers.”

Also, Camden County, located on I-95 along Georgia's Atlantic coast, is looking to capture a portion of the space industry's $350 billion annual global market with the development of a proposed spaceport.  Home to a former rocket testing facility, Camden County has the required land and can provide ready access to existing space launch sites in Virginia and Florida.  

According to Justice, the Center is facilitating ways to keep air transportation environmentally friendly through new technologies for fuel-efficient aircraft, alternative carbon-based fuels, and development of electric propulsion.  

“We want to be environmentally responsible and are working with Georgia Tech and Lockheed on programs to improve fuel efficiency on aircraft,” said Justice. “We are also looking at biofuels and electric aircraft, we are starting small and moving to larger aircraft.”

For more information, visit the Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace website at