Arizona Aerospace Institute proposed for former auto test site in east Mesa

Posted By Mike Padgett

Feb. 20, 2009

MESA, Ariz. – An aerospace institute pumping 1,300 jobs and $72 million into the state economy is proposed for the old General Motors Proving Grounds in southeast Mesa.

Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams today, in prepared statements, announced the appointment of a 17-member advisory board to determine how best to assemble the state’s existing aviation and research assets into a high-flying Arizona Aerospace Institute in the city of Mesa.

“During these historic economic times, it’s critical we leverage our assets and be proactive about building Arizona’s economy,” Adams says. “We are fortunate to have innovative aerospace corporations, educational and healthcare institutions, and military installations in addition to individuals and organizations committed to our economy’s vitality and growth. By bringing these pieces together, we will ensure our state’s competitive position for the long run.”

The aerospace institute is proposed as a public-private initiative that would rely on the state’s existing industry assets to create a research, education and design institute that focuses on pre-competitive research, which is the stage between research in laboratories and universities, and a company’s product development.

The institute’s advisory board chairman is Robert Johnson, former chairman and chief executive officer of Honeywell Aerospace and chief executive office of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise.

“By working with government and nonprofit organizations to fortify Arizona’s education system, advance research and development, and ultimately create competitive, high-paying jobs for our citizens, we all win,” Johnson says.

Johnson has nearly 40 years of experience in the aerospace industry. He also has served as the national chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association, the industry’s largest trade association.

Arizona’s technological base is supported by the aerospace and defense industries, says William Harris, chief executive officer of Science Foundation Arizona and a member of the new advisory board.

“Building on our established resources, Arizona has the potential to be among the top three locations in the world for these industries,” Harris says. “The proposed Arizona Aerospace Institute aspires to help transform our state by catalyzing the needed diversification of the economy and creating high-quality jobs. In essence, we have the opportunity to create for the aerospace industry in Arizona what the Translational Genomics Research Institute has created for biomedical in our state.”

The institute would foster public-private partnerships to develop new technologies in aerospace and aviation, as well as recruiting skilled employees needed for the high-tech work.

The former GM proving grounds site at the southeast corner of Elliott and Ellsworth roads is ideal for the aerospace institute because of its location close to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, ASU Polytechnic and major aerospace and aviation companies, officials say.

General Motors opened the proving grounds in 1953. In 2000, GM sold 1,800 acres of the property to Pacific Proving LLC. In 2006, GM sold the remaining 3,200 acres to DMB Associates and then leased the property back until an unspecified date in 2009. DMB has plans to redevelop the property.

Mesa receives national honor

Last year, Mesa recently received a “2008 Award of Excellence in Aerospace” honor from Expansion Solutions Magazine because of the city’s progress in recruiting and retaining businesses in the aerospace industry. Mesa has nearly 20 percent of all aerospace-related jobs within the metro Phoenix area.

“While Arizona is ranked fourth in the nation in per-capita aviation and aerospace employment, this industry has been overlooked as a growth sector and generator of high-paying jobs,” says Drew Brown, a member of the advisory board and the chief executive of DMB Associates.

A 2008 report prepared for the Arizona Aerospace & Defense Commission shows that more than 57,000 individuals in Arizona work in the aerospace industry, earning more than $3.8 billion in total annual wages.

In 2008, DMB and Science Foundation Arizona commissioned ASU to prepare a report assessing the feasibility of the aerospace institute. The report, published late last year, suggests that such an institute “could contribute $72 million in earnings and 1,320 jobs to Arizona’s economy. The full report is available at

Over the next several months, House Speaker Adams expects the group to meet several times “and come back to him with recommendations on a specific mission and focus of the institute,” says Karrin Taylor, an advisory board member and vice president of entitlements at DMB Associates.

“Given that it’s envisioned to be a public and private partnership, there needs to be a valid business proposition from a research perspective so that industry partners will be interested in participating,” Taylor says.

The aerospace institute concept grew out of a meeting in early 2008 to solidify the future of the Boeing division near Falcon Field in Mesa, if not to entice Boeing to relocate its Seattle headquarters to Arizona. Texas officials, according to Arizona sources, last year made an attractive offer to Boeing to lure the company’s Mesa division, which has about 5,000 employees earning an average of $80,000 each, to the Lone Star state.

Adams, at the Legislature, learned of the aspiration to lure Boeing headquarters to Arizona, and offered to help foster that dialogue. Adams arranged a meeting that included Arizona State University President Michael Crow, representatives of the state’s congressional delegation, Boeing, DMB Associates, and Science Foundation Arizona. That meeting in Phoenix led to subsequent meetings in Washington D.C. with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the state’s congressional delegation. Those collaborative talks led to the proposal for the Arizona Aerospace Institute.

One of the talking points in those discussions focused on the 25 percent of the nation’s aerospace engineers retiring over the next 10 years, with insufficient numbers of new engineers replacing them.

Advisory board members of the Arizona Aerospace Institute will serve as volunteers until the institute is officially launched and a permanent board is established. The interim board will be asked to make recommendations about the institute’s specific mission, its funding and its legal framework.

In addition to Johnson, Harris, Crow, Brown and Taylor, other advisory board members are:

• Barbara Barrett, former U.S. Ambassador to Finland.

• Barry Broome, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

• Tom Browning, Brigadier General (retired), U.S. Air Force.

• Jay Heiler, senior counselor to APCO Worldwide.

• T. Michael Moseley, General (retired), Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.

• Mark Ogren, vice president, business development, Orbital Sciences Corporation.

• Mary Peters, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

• Scott Smith, Mayor, City of Mesa.

• Scott Somers, District 6 Councilmember, City of Mesa.

• Dr. Jan Stepanek, director of the Mayo Clinic Aerospace Medicine Program.

• Arizona Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor.

• Steve Zylstra, chief executive officer, Arizona Technology Council.


(To avoid missing the latest news on, sign up for convenient email alerts in the Feedburner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

(Comments from readers are moderated and will not appear until the administrator has approved them.)





Feb 20th, 2009

Comments are closed.