Mississippi will be helping build ‘the best fighter known to man’

An expansion announced Friday, May 26, 2017, could lead to 60 new jobs at the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facility in Moss Point.
An expansion announced Friday, May 26, 2017, could lead to 60 new jobs at the Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facility in Moss Point.

Gov. Phil Bryant announced Friday an expansion at Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center at Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, which will generate 60 new jobs for the area.

Bryant, speaking at the annual investors meeting of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation, praised the company for choosing Mississippi. Northrop Grumman will get state and county incentives to make the move, which will require clearing out and retooling areas of the plant to handle sub-assembly for building a certain portion of the F-35 fighter jet.

Bryant called it a $3.7 million investment in the coming years. Some estimate it will take four years to complete the process of ordering and getting the assembly line set up.

The plant already produces portions of the Navy Fire Scout unmanned helicopter; wiring for the Air Force Global Hawk, a high-flying surveillance aircraft; and the unmanned Navy Triton. Production will continue on those.

The 101,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Unmanned Systems Center is owned by Jackson County and leased to Northrop Grumman. As part of the incentives for Northrop Grumman to begin this new manufacturing, Jackson County has pledged $700,000 for building improvements to accommodate the work. In return, Northrop Grumman extended its lease of the building by three years, committing to Jackson County for a total of 10 years.

The Mississippi Development Authority is providing $1.5 million for equipment, building improvements and workforce training, adding $250,000 for “training that falls outside the scope of traditional training programs.”

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, which is training aerospace workers now, will get some of that money.

President Mary Graham said, “We’ll expand training tenfold,” but added they don’t yet have a dollar amount for the cost.

JCEDF Director George Freeland stressed the importance of these jobs.

He said Jackson County has the petrochemical industry, shipbuilding, the manufacturing of unmanned aircraft and now manufacturing of manned aircraft.

Bryant called the F-35, “the best fighter known to man,” and bragged Mississippi will be helping Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman build them.

He also told the audience of county, state and business leaders that besides the investment at the Unmanned Systems Center, the state is designating $7.5 million of BP restoration money to harden the runway at Trent Lott International Airport near the center.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., called this move job diversification and said he believes workers in this county will be “building these planes for the next 20 years. It’s 20 solid years of employment for Jackson County.”

He thanked Northrop Grumman for “believing in the skills of workers in Mississippi.”

Kevin Mitchell, vice president of global supply for Northrop Grumman, praised the private-public partnership that made this investment possible and said, “There are not too many states where you can make a call and the governor is right there to support you.”

Clay Williams, executive director of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, attended the meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn and said, “We’re excited they have aerospace (manufacturing) coming here. It’s good for the whole region.”

Jackson County Supervisor Barry Cumbest said, “This is going to be good for a long time. They are hiring 60, but we’re hoping it grows down the line.”

Bryant said this move solidifies Northrop Grumman’s position as a leader in the aerospace and defense industries and strengthens Mississippi’s standing in the Southeast Aerospace Alliance.

Northrop Grumman is considered a front-runner in the high-tech aerospace field with a worldwide market expected to increase by billions of dollars in the next few years.

The JCEDF is a private-public partnership with business and industry that promotes economic development for Jackson County.