LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: SCV emerges as landing spot for resurgent aerospace industry

Comic book art created by Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik. Courtesy photo
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Nasmyth TMF officials knew what they needed in the new home for their North American headquarters.

– A spot in an industrial park.
– The flexibility to operate around the clock seven days a week.
– Room for expansion.
– Proximity to industry heavyweights and other supply partners.
– A motivated local economic development partner.

What they didn’t know was where to find it.

“We drew a circle within a 50-mile radius – all the way out to Chino in the east and up to Palmdale in the north,” says Geoff Folkes, Nasmyth’s executive vice president.

From Burbank, where the company had been hubbed since 1955, the roads went every which way. This is California, after all.

That wasn’t, however, why Nasmyth settled on one of the simplest of trips, a 20-some-mile straightaway on Interstate 5 to Exit 173. One of the world’s leading providers of metal finishing products and services to the aerospace industry chose the Santa Clarita Valley because this place – unlike the others – had it all.

With Southern California in the midst of an aerospace resurgence – the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation in December reported an additional 5,000 jobs across the last two years, though today’s loose headcount of some 90,000 employees is far from the glory days of the early 1990s – Santa Clarita has emerged as an especially desirable location.

In addition to Nasmyth, M.S. Aerospace (www.msaerospace.com) and Global Aerospace Technology Corporation (www.globalatcorp.com) have recently moved into the SCV, pushing the area’s count of aerospace-related employers to approximately 90 and deepening the industry’s economic impact in and around Los Angeles County’s third largest city.

A division of Sylmar-based M.S. Aerospace, the world’s largest independent manufacturer of aerospace fasteners, A.S. Aerospace is working out of a nearly 21,000-square-foot industrial building on Centre Point Parkway.

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Global Aerospace, an aircraft spares vendor that supplies to Boeing, among others, and a manufacturer of cargo loading systems, shifted its entire operation in December from Sylmar to a 20,000-square-foot facility on Rye Canyon.

Nasmyth, meanwhile, has been working since November in a newly remodeled 18,000-square-foot space on Hancock Parkway, where its neighbors include Lamsco West, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of shims and laminated shim stock, and Sunvair, a North American leader in landing gear overhaul and repair.

The SCV’s top 10 aerospace employers account for nearly 3,600 jobs, according to the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation’s 2018 count – fronted by Woodward, Inc., and Aerospace Dynamics International.

“For several generations, Southern California has led the nation and the world in cutting-edge aerospace innovation,” says Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale. “With local access to LAX, Edwards Air Force Base, NASA Armstrong, JPL, USAF’s Plant 42, and a whole host of top-tier universities, Santa Clarita sits at a nexus of aeronautics development and production. California’s 25th District has a long legacy of advancing civilian and defense flight products, and we stand ready to continue this leadership.”

Nasmyth TMF (www.nasmythgroup.com/companies/nasmyth-tmf) didn’t pick up and move to the Santa Clarita Valley merely for a change of scenery.

In an industry over-regulated by environmental, health and safety requirements, Nasmyth had reached capacity at its former home of more than six decades on Pacific Avenue in Burbank, Folkes said, plus the company needed increased flexibility to meet the demanding production schedules of industry giants including Boeing and Airbus.

“We don’t have to go out and win business; the business is already won,” says Chris Henson, the company’s vice president for business development, stressing that Nasmyth’s nimble approach and willingness to further invest in cutting-edge infrastructure will ensure its long-term success.

“This facility (in Valencia), alone, we’ve invested $4 million to operate it,” he says. “Our competitors cannot grow anymore. They’re up and running, but I don’t believe they expected to see the type of growth we’re seeing (in the industry). … If we look at some of our competitors, those guys are going to have to invest (to keep up).”

Some of those companies, he predicts, won’t survive.

Nasmyth’s new facility, which includes a multi-million dollar processing line as well as a full non-destructive test department and laboratory, is equipped to provide Type II sulfuric anodizing, Type III hard anodizing, passivation and chemical film conversion.

Those specialized coating processes primarily guard aluminum-based products used in commercial, private and military aircraft against corrosion.

“It doesn’t rust, but it does corrode. And it corrodes badly,” Folkes says of aluminum, adding that Nasmyth’s sealing processes are among “the most important parts of the componentry of an airplane.”

Spacecraft launch into space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. Getty Images

The company’s move to an advanced industrial site in Santa Clarita has also allowed for a 24-hour daily work schedule, another advantage over some competitors “constrained in hours (of operation),” Henson says, and provides the wholly-owned subsidiary of the England-based Nasmyth Group with opportunities to grow its workforce.

“We’re at 25 (employees) now but our projections tell us we’ll be looking at 56 in the next two years,” Henson says. “And probably tripling our sales.”

Boeing, for example, has focused much of its emphasis on West Coast operations from Washington to Oregon and into California, with projected revenue increases of 6 to 9 percent by 2021, Henson says.

Thanks to 24/7 capabilities at its new location, Henson says Nasmyth is poised to realize similar year-over-year growth “without any (additional) effort.”

But, he adds, “If we had stayed in Burbank, we would have been one of the facilities that would have closed.”

An added bonus: The commute isn’t rough for the company’s relocated employees.

Thirty-seven years ago, Kimberly Maevers witnessed history in the Antelope Valley.

“I got to the see the first space shuttle landing here,” she says, referring to the April 14, 1981, touchdown of Columbia at Edwards Air Force Base. “We sat on our rooftop and saw it fly over our heads.”

The aerospace industry hasn’t just provided once-in-a-lifetime memories in the Antelope Valley, though. The multi-billion dollar industry – fronted by the likes of Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, three of the area’s largest employers – has also shaped its primary cities of Lancaster and Palmdale.

To avoid encroaching on the aerospace industry, Maevers says Antelope Valley economic developers “have (had) to be very mindful” in their planning efforts through the years, an effort that, for example, has required the high desert communities to carefully preserve open spaces and restricted vertical growth.

“Then we might not have cool stuff flying around here,” says Maevers, a lifelong resident who serves as president of the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance.

She adds, “This place would be very different if we didn’t have the billions of dollars that aerospace has invested in us. I couldn’t imagine – and I was born and raised here, so I can say this – what this place would look like (without the industry’s influence).”

While the impacts of aerospace aren’t yet as profound in the Santa Clarita Valley, State Sen. Scott Wilk views aerospace as a key ingredient to the area’s recipe for the future, pointing to job creation rates that are already exceeding LAEDC forecasts and an average wage of $106,200 that’s nearly twice the average of other jobs across Southern California ($56,600), according to the county’s economic development statistics.

“There are few things that define a region the way aerospace does Southern California,” says Wilk, R-Santa Clarita. “The Santa Clarita Valley is home to thousands of mortgage-paying jobs that are a direct benefit from the aerospace industry. This is an industry we are rightly proud of and should be fighting to keep.

“The average aerospace employee has a bachelor’s degree and is paid 50 percent above the national average,” he says. “These are the kinds of jobs we need to foster in our region and ensure our children are able to compete for them in the years to come.”

Aerospace wages are on the rise, too, according to the LAEDC, with a whopping 24-percent pop in spare vehicles and parts and guided missiles and a 7-percent rise in instrumentation since 2004.

To nurture future growth, Wilk says he and Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, are working to establish an aerospace-related institute of higher learning that would “educate area residents as well as attract top talent from outside the region to ensure continued growth in innovation for this vital industry.”

In November 2017, Rep. Knight introduced his own vision to help drive aerospace expansion, partnering with Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Connecticut Democrat, on the bipartisan Women in Aerospace Education Act that would enhance K-12 initiatives to promote greater female participation in the STEM-related fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The recent arrivals of Nasmyth, A.S. Aerospace and GATCO are consistent with the vision of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation, which, upon its founding in 2010, identified aerospace and defense as a target industry based on its proximity to Edwards Air Force Base and NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center at Palmdale Regional Airport, among others, and other industry partners across the county.

“The addition of new aerospace companies to the SCV roster of businesses continues to demonstrate that the SCV is a desirable place for these companies to expand and do business,” says Holly Schroeder, the SCVEDC’s president and CEO.

Like Nasmyth, GATCO’s plan for its future in the SCV calls for additional jobs, says Don Spengler, whose arrival as the company’s CEO fell on the same day as its official move from Sylmar.

“We will be hiring,” Spengler says. “The pool (of prospective employees) is a little better here than it was where we were.”

The aerospace industry, as of 2016, supported 268,100 total jobs in Southern California, according to the LAEDC. And those numbers will only get bigger, says Nasmyth’s Henson, citing the strength of the region’s aerospace cluster – including the emerging portfolio across the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Southern California is where you need to be,” Henson says. “The capacity is here. The skill level is here. The hunger to do the work is here. It’s in Southern California.”

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