Flying cars, space intelligence, ‘bread and butter’ manufacturing: Here’s how the region fared in some key sectors in 2020

The coronavirus pandemic dampened the number of jobs created during 2020, but the more than two-dozen economic development projects that got a push from the Dayton Development Coalition should prime the region for future growth, the organization’s leaders said.

In January and February, it appeared 2020 would be a stellar year for the coalition, said Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO.

“We just finished our annual meeting. We were getting ready for a JobsOhio board meeting here in Dayton at the Air Force Museum. The First Four was kicking in and the Dayton Flyers were No. 3 in the country. Everything just aligned perfectly for Dayton and then boom ― March hit and everything just shut down,” he said.

While the number of new jobs fostered by the Dayton Development Coalition was down over previous years, Hoagland said he was pleased with the region’s 2020 performance under the cloud of a pandemic.

Of its 29 projects, 1,969 jobs were created, adding about $115.7 million in new payroll, according to the coalition, while 8,154 jobs and $347.3 million payroll was retained. As a result of the pandemic, the number of jobs created during this year was down from the typical average of 3,000 in recent years, Hoagland said.

Serving 14 counties, the DDC is the regional partner of JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic development arm.

The 29 companies and military entities in the region that received JobsOhio incentives this year put $604.4 million into capital investments. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base accounted for $182 million — or 30% of the total — followed by Meijer Stores with $160.6 million, according to DDC data.

Flying cars

The coalition’s year began with word of a $46 million expansion at Fuyao Glass America and ended with a flurry of announcements surrounding flying cars.

The region is on the cusp of a new industry revolution on par with the advent of the automobile, said Elaine Bryant, the DDC’s executive vice president for aerospace and defense.

“It’s kind of like working with the Henry Fords of the modern world. These are the guys that are going to be manufacturing and producing these vehicles for commercial use for everyday people,” she said.

Partnering with the U.S. Air Force, three companies are setting up shop in the region to further develop electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and charging stations to power them.

BETA Technologies and Joby Aviation broke ground this month with the Air Force on an advanced urban air mobility technology simulator facility at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. LIFT Aircraft is also joining the Air Force’s Agility Prime initiative to speed development of the technology. LIFT will operate out of the Springfield airport, as well as at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The Air Force is taking a hand in the eVTOL technology as a national security imperative, Bryant said.

“We now have the opportunity to avoid what has happened to the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle),” she said. “Ten to 15 years ago, UAVs were at this point, and now every American has a UAV … We’re now faced with the struggle that all of these things are made in China.”

Bryant said it makes sense that the development and manufacturing of eVTOL aircraft takes place in the region alongside Air Force engineers and acquisition professionals who will one day be purchasing the technology for defense use.

“We’re working on it,” she said.

‘Bread and butter’

While flying cars might be the shiny new object, the development coalition continues to work on other “bread and butter” projects with traditional economic development tools, said Julie Sullivan, its executive vice president of regional development.

“We had a good cross section this year, various different industries demonstrating growth,” she said. “Advanced manufacturing was the largest, but we also saw significant growth in the military federal sector, solid growth in logistics and distribution, and technology information services and software.”

The advanced manufacturing sector incentivized by JobsOhio added 605 new jobs, nearly one-third of those created in 2020 in the 14-county region.

Other bread and butter projects will expand the region’s logistics footprint near the Dayton International Airport. A second Crocs distribution center opened, promising at least 300 new jobs and a new $160 million Meijer Distribution Center automated warehouse is under construction in Tipp City.

Tapped for military development

JobsOhio tapped the Dayton Development Coalition to lead a new state initiative focused on military and federal development. While the DDC is responsible for assisting military installations statewide, the biggest is in its front yard: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

While the region was left off the short list for the U.S. Space Command headquarters, it did get the National Space Intelligence Center to be co-located with NASIC at Wright-Patterson.

“We actually got the prize that we really had our eye on,” Bryant said.

In November, ground was broken for a new $182 million addition to NASIC. The five-story Intelligence Production Complex III project is set to house nearly 900 people.

“Between NASIC and AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) we have not just Air Force personnel, but Space Force personnel serving right here in the Dayton region,” Bryant said. “It’s a joint opportunity in terms of service for our region.”

The efforts recognize that the Air Force and Space Force are pivoting to be digital forces, requiring new and advanced skillsets, according to Bryant.

“There’s work within the Air Force being done to really get their arms around what exactly that looks like for their workforce, for their tools and their processes,” Bryant said.

In addition to tapping in to the region’s existing expertise in computer engineering, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and machine learning, it’s imperative for higher education institutions and K-12 districts to understand the importance of a STEM education, Sullivan said.

“We also have to be thinking about how we continue to build a strong pipeline into the future, because this isn’t going away,” she said. “The needs are only going to increase and it’s not just the Air Force that wants to go through digital transformation. It’s pretty much every industry.”

The Air Force also recently released two parcels of land at Wright-Patt that might provide for development opportunities for private defense and aerospace companies or for university facilities near the Air Force Research Lab and the acquisition community, Bryant said.

The DDC is “watching very carefully” the National Defense Authorization Act, Hoagland said.

President Trump vetoed the $740.5 billion defense bill Wednesday, objecting that lawmakers didn’t add language to remove a legal protection for social media companies and that the bill would force the renaming of military installations named after Confederate leaders. The House is preparing to meet Monday in a rare session between holidays to vote on an override of the veto, and if successful, the Senate will follow with a vote on Tuesday.

Hoagland said he doesn’t expect federal spending on defense to radically change under a new president.

“The Trump administration really spent a lot of money the last four years and everything we’re hearing is that the Biden administration plans to do the same,” he said. “We think that the future in the defense budget looks bright. Part of that is because of what China, the Russians and the North Koreans and a lot of our adversaries are doing.”

Dayton Development Coalition 2020 by the numbers

29: Projects won

1,969: Jobs created

$115,728,947: Payroll created

8,154: Jobs retained

$347,326,914: Payroll retained

$604,379,369: New capital investment

Coming Next Sunday

The Dayton Daily News examine what the overall economic forecast looks like for our region in 2021.

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