Since the dawn of time, man has looked to the stars in wonderment. From the patriarchs of the Mayan empire to Aristotle and Galileo, humans have always seen the heavens as a great unknown. In 1961, under the guidance of President John F. Kennedy, America sent an astronaut up to touch them. His vessel, the Mercury-Redstone 3, was built here in California.
A major milestone to be sure, but this wasn’t our beginning in the world of aerospace. In fact, California has been at the leading edge of this industry since its beginning. The sound barrier was broken here; the Apollo command module was built here; the Columbia space shuttle landed here after its first trip to the stars. The list goes on, but suffice it to say our region and the aerospace industry are inextricably linked.
The aerospace industry provides mortgage-paying jobs to thousands of Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley residents. It is a larger part of California’s economy than agriculture and film and television combined, with industry average salaries over $100,000. Aerospace has led to the development of the Antelope Valley from a sleepy bedroom community in the desert to a hotbed of economic activity. All this is why, now more than ever, we must ensure the industry continues to call California home.
The highly skilled workforce needed by the industry has become increasingly harder to come by. That’s why, along with Assemblyman Tom Lackey, I’ve been involved in a four-year battle to bring an aerospace institute to the this region so that we can train and educate local residents to fill the staffing needs of our biggest industry and give all Californians an avenue to career-long prosperity in the field of aerospace.
It’s taken a long time, but we’re almost there. This year, we introduced a bill – Senate Bill 1356 – to get state funding for the institute to match anticipated contributions from industry partners who call the region home and would jump at the opportunity to work with an educational institution to train the next generation of aerospace engineers.
The bill has had widespread support from industry professionals, educators and politicians on both sides of the aisle, and it’s just two stops away from the governor’s desk, closer than we’ve ever been. As we move in to the final months of this year’s legislative session we’ll be working hard every day to pass SB 1356 and make the institute a reality.
The institute, a graduate-level research facility, will provide chances for the best and brightest minds in engineering, physics, mathematics and technology to converge at the heart of the industry, working with leaders in the field while pursuing their graduate degree.
An aerospace institute will be more than just a place to learn and develop, though; it will represent our commitment to a business sector that has, for decades, committed to us here in Southern California.
California’s aerospace industry brings to our state a whopping $61.6 billion per year and employs over 500,000 people. The industry is a bigger economic force in the state than the entertainment and agriculture industries combined; it’s time we start valuing the sector like we do others and supplying it with the workforce it needs.
Because of our region’s historical significance in the aerospace field and its proximity to facilities and industry leaders, the area serves as the premiere locale for aerospace research, development and manufacturing. As we look to build on that potential the institute will play a key role, laying the groundwork for a prosperous and long-lasting relationship between the people of the region and the aerospace industry.
This is our chance to turn the corner from bedroom community to economic powerhouse. Much like Stanford University was able to transform Silicon Valley in the 1970s, the California Institute for Aerospace would strengthen our position as a global leader in the aerospace industry. By creating this institute we will build educational and employment opportunities here, ensuring more and more of us can learn and work close to home and cut the commute.
When aerospace does well, California does well. It’s a truly amazing industry. These brilliant professionals build things most of us barely dream of. Seemingly straight out of science fiction, companies in the region have sent men to the moon, made them go faster, higher, longer than ever before, and built defense systems that save thousands of lives on the battlefield. Along the way, they’ve invented things like kidney dialysis and L.E.D. lighting.
Let’s not lose sight of aerospace research, development and manufacturing; let’s support it, grow it and help it thrive, so we can, too.
Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District, which encompasses the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys.