Northrop Grumman Continues Expansion
Northrop Grumman’s B-2 stealth bomber was so unique and futuristic that there was an “Area 52” type of buzz when it debuted. Its distinctive capabilities, including its stealth characteristics, allow it to penetrate the most sophisticated enemy defenses and attack high value, heavily defended targets. The B-2 is the only U.S. aircraft that combines long range, large payload and stealth in a single aircraft and it can literally fly anywhere in the world, with a range of 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and 10,000 with one refueling.
Yet the newest B-2’s are over 20 years old and recently the Air Force announced it had chosen Northrop Grumman to build the service’s next-generation Long Range Strike Bomber. The coup for Central Florida is that they will be built in Brevard County. The contract is estimated to be worth more than $20 billion, though that could swell to $80 billion if the Air Force is able to purchase the 100 bombers it says it wants. Obviously, the more aircraft the Air Force purchases, the lower the cost per unit becomes.
The contract initially calls for 21 planes, and also $23.5 billion in engineering and development costs. The deal expands Northrop Grumman’s Melbourne facility which was enlarged in 2014, where some 2,600 employees already work at their facility located at Melbourne International Airport.
Not The Only Secret
Like the aircraft itself the negotiations to land the project in Brevard was also clothed in mystery. Dubbed “Project Magellan” the enormous economic development deal may create as many as 1,800 new jobs by 2020 with an average salary of $100,000. This does not include the estimated $500 million to be invested in Northrop Grumman’s facilities.
“It’s a big deal,” Florida Tech Economics Professor Mike Slotkin told News13 after the disclosure. “When you get announcements on the magnitude of 1,500 direct jobs, and then the indirect that’s going to be associated with it, it allows you to get to fuller recovery in chunks, rather than trying to move the ball down the field at three and four yards a clip,” Slotkin said.
Experts agree the influx of people with relatively high paying salaries will be a boost for new home construction, which in turn bolsters the property tax base and also bring in more disposable income to spend at area businesses. Also the talent pool will become that much more competitive as local engineering and aerospace companies jockey to keep their employees. Currently Brevard County’s unemployment rate is 5.9 percent, down 1.4 points from last year, when the new hires begin the number will likely drop even further.
The Expanding Aviation Hub When Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace manufacturer, placed and then expanded its assembly plant and later its Engineering and Development Center in Melbourne and most recently Embraer Aero Seating Technologies further north in Titusville, the world began to take notice. Harris Corporation, Northrup Grumman’s neighbor in Melbourne, in 2015 completed an acquisition of Exelis, that doubled the size of the Brevard based Fortune 500 technology company.
Now with Northrop Grumman’s expansion, conversations about an aerospace/aviation hub south of Brevard’s historic center of technology at Kennedy Space Center and Canaveral Air Force Station is an acknowledged fact. As U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said in a prepared statement, “This is huge. The development and assembly of America’s long range strike aircraft in Melbourne is a new beginning for the Space Coast.”
Northrop Grumman corporate vice president and president, Aerospace Systems commented, “We’re extremely appreciative of the support we’ve received from the state of Florida and the local community in our continuing effort to drive our affordability and competitive position. This expansion further cements our strong partnership with Florida, and will greatly benefit our employees, customers and shareholders.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott added, “This is a huge victory for families on the Space Coast. We are excited that Northrop Grumman has decided to expand here in Florida, which could bring up to 1,800 new jobs to Brevard County. This is a huge win. We must continue to grow our opportunity economy so that companies like Northrop Grumman can continue to create jobs for Florida families.”