St. Louis Region’s Aerospace and Aviation Ecosystem a Mecca for Investments

St. Louis Region’s Aerospace and Aviation Ecosystem a Mecca for Investments
January 18, 2024 Jasmine Thomas

For decades, the St. Louis bi-state region has been known for its aviation innovation and production, and expansion projects currently underway demonstrate that aviation and aerospace industries are not slowing down anytime soon. The St. Louis area is home to 49 aerospace manufacturing businesses that collectively account for nearly 17,300 employees, and that number is expected to grow by nearly 1,000 as billions of dollars in planned investments come to fruition over the next five to 10 years.

Representatives from four of the area’s most significant aerospace manufacturing and service companies recently came together to discuss St. Louis’ aviation and aerospace ecosystem, as well as individual operations and more than $2 billion in expansion plans at their respective airport facilities. Those companies include The Boeing Company, Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., AVMATS and West Star Aviation.

Boeing St. Louis has three major business units in the region – including defense, commercial and services – that collectively have more than 16,000 employees. The company has about a $1.9 billion annual payroll and a very large supplier base in the State of Missouri, with over $765 million spent through 368 suppliers annually, and that is mirrored in Illinois.

Randell Gelzer, Senior Director of Government Operations for The Boeing Company, said the company’s $1.8 billion expansion planned at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, and $200 million being invested in a new production facility at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, where the MQ-25 unmanned aircraft will be made. According to Gelzer, The Boeing Company expects to add approximately 650 new jobs in the region. A variety of factors are fueling the expansion, but they all tie back to the ecosystem that exists in the bi-state region.

“Boeing has had a long-standing presence in the community,” said Gelzer, who also noted that the company’s last major announcement was the move of its triple seven work to St. Louis. “It’s because of the partnerships, the relationships at all levels within this ecosystem, whether that’s with the airports, non-profits, business community, local and state chambers, and economic development organizations.”

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. has more than 20,000 employees worldwide, operating out of 12 service and four completions centers, the newest of which opened at St. Louis Downtown Airport in June 2023. Anthony Ray, Vice President and General Manager, St. Louis Completions, said that’s where aircraft are outfitted to the specifications of the customer from the paint stripes to the custom interior, and then delivered into the market. The new completions facility augments the company’s existing Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility, which has been operating at St. Louis Downtown Airport since 2017.

Ray said Gulfstream Aerospace has more than 500 employees at its facility at St. Louis Downtown Airport, and that number continues to grow. In June, the company announced plans for a $28.5 million expansion that will add 200 new jobs. As Gulfstream Aerospace’s expansion continues, there are still various career opportunities and jobs available.

“We have over 3,000 Gulfstream aircraft flying around the world today,” said Ray. “As our fleet continues to grow, it is necessary that we expand our facilities and customer offerings. The greater St. Louis region is an area we’ve strategically identified to further invest in to support this growth. The local workforce and partnerships we’ve established are invaluable. The strong relationships that we currently have with local educational institutions, Bi-State Development, local government and community leaders, and the phenomenal group at the St. Louis Downtown Airport have certainly contributed to our decision to continue to expand here.”

AVMATS, a small, family-owned company that services and supports small to mid-sized business jets and some military aircraft, has a rich history in the St. Louis region. The company operates a paint and hangar facility at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in St. Clair County, Ill., and has 100,000 square feet of warehouse space and 62,000 square feet of back shops in O’Fallon, Mo., that are dedicated to engine components and parts support divisions. AVMATS also has operations at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Mo., where it offers its customers aircraft maintenance, avionics, interiors, and structural support services, operating across about 120,000 square feet of production space. AVMATS has approximately 150 employees and boasts an average employment term of around 13 years, with a handful of employees who have been there since the company’s founding 45 years ago.

According to Jason Noll, Director of Sales & Marketing for AVMATS, the company is filling a need for clients who require a specialized service provider for mid-sized business jets and have limited options.

“We have an extraordinary set of skilled craftsmen that work at AVMATS,” Noll said. “The traffic we see is pretty specialized. Annually, we see about 300 to 400 airplanes through our Spirit of St. Louis facilities, and about 15% of those are internationally based.”

Noll said he believes AVMATS’ skilled workforce is why the company has seen such success over the past 45 years.

West Star Aviation, which has two locations in the St. Louis region at St. Louis Regional Airport in East Alton, Ill., and St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia Heights and Sauget, Ill., has also found success in the St. Louis region and has plans to grow its operations.

Its primary location – a full-service MRO that is a one-stop shop – is at St. Louis Regional Airport, and the company’s operations comply with aircraft maintenance, complete strip and repaint, Avionics modifications and repairs, and Interior refurbishments.

At St. Louis Downtown Airport, West Star Aviation occupies one hangar totaling 50,000 square feet of hangar and office space. That space also previously housed West Star’s sister company Avant Aerospace, through which West Star purchases aircraft and part out to better support its business, customers and other vendors in the aviation industry. Avant recently relocated to a 36,000-square-foot warehouse in Collinsville, Ill., so it has room to grow the parts side of the business, and West Star Aviation can increase its hangar space at St. Louis Downtown Airport for the growing MRO business. West Star Aviation has turned out about 850 aircraft over the last 12 months.

Brian Bauwens, who serves as General Manager for both locations, revealed that West Star Aviation has just over 600 employees at the St. Louis Regional Airport facility and more than 400,000 square feet currently under roof, with expansion plans set to grow that to nearly 500,000 square feet. The company also plans to add another 100 employees.

“At the end of the day, with all the talent and the workforce here in the local area, I think we can consider St. Louis to be an aviation mecca,” said Bauwens. “The access to talent, the relationships, it all just plays a part.”

The information was shared during the second annual Take Flight Forum on Nov. 8 and was hosted by Bi-State Development and the St. Louis Regional Freightway. The four aviation and aerospace industry experts joined directors from the five busiest airports serving the St. Louis region to discuss the significance of the bi-state area’s aerospace and aviation industries, recent and planned investments, and the job opportunities in this vibrant sector of the St. Louis region’s economy. They also talked about efforts underway regionwide to help feed the pipeline of potential workers to keep up with the growth. Between the five airports and the four aerospace companies, a total of $5 billion in investments is collectively being poured into the St. Louis region’s aerospace manufacturing and aviation ecosystem. To learn more, visit our YouTube channel.