CASPER — Wyoming manufacturing companies gathered with representatives of the prime contractors in the defense and aerospace industries in Casper Monday and Tuesday for the first-ever Wyoming Aerospace and Defense Suppliers Conference.
Members of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Moog Inc., Perspecta and Northrop Grumman attended the event in the hopes of expanding the $28 billion industry into Wyoming.
“This conference is the culmination of 18 months of market and business development activities and is intended to showcase quality Wyoming companies to the A&D industry and provide a portal to transacting business in this mission-critical industry,” Charles Walsh, CEO of Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, which hosted the event, said in a press release.
Jay Stender of Forward Sheridan organized the event with Forward Casper after having invited representatives of Lockheed Martin to Sheridan in March to meet with manufacturing leaders.
Stender said there was great turnout at both the community and state levels, with 10 Sheridan companies and 35-37 Wyoming companies in attendance.
“I think it was remarkable that we had this relationship with Forward Casper, and we had remarkable participation with Sheridan and Gillette businesses,” Stender said. The idea for the event came together with two main causes, according to Stender.
First, Forward Sheridan invited Lockheed Martin to Sheridan County in March and expressed strong interest in developing the industry in the area, even though they had been previously unaware of the industry around Sheridan.
“So, we really took that to heart,” Stender said.
Second, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, began expressing support for the developments because of her role on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.
Every one of the prime contractors said they were looking for capable subcontractors, especially since there is a current workforce shortage for the industry in Colorado.
“Wyoming had never taken the initiative to invite them and get everyone together,” and the defense industry “never looked north” from Colorado, Stender said.
The two main steps that Sheridan industry leaders need to take in the short run, according to Stender, are accommodating the heavy administrative burden that comes with the industry and meeting industry certification standards for employees.
Kennon Products had begun working toward those goals about two years ago.
The keys to achieving defense contracts are simply expressing interest in doing the work and demonstrating present capacity and capabilities.
“The real crux of it is that the businesses didn’t understand that there is such an opportunity if they elect to pursue it,” Stender said.
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, attended the event and believes the industry could play an important role in Wyoming’s transitioning economy.
“The huge discussion in Wyoming really is how do we diversify the state,” Kinner said. “To me, looking at industry that is not related to minerals is a very important step. I think there’s a huge opportunity to diversify our manufacturers and in turn diversify Wyoming.”
Kennon Products, Vacutech, L&H Industrial and EMIT Technologies were especially well-represented at the event.
Kinner said that Major General Jay Lindell, the Aerospace and Defense Industry Champion at the Colorado Office of Development and International trade considers his position a regional position and is enthusiastic about the possible northward expansion.