Long Island’s aerospace “cluster” needs to develop an identity to effectively market itself to major defense companies, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said at a conference Monday.
“What are our core competencies?” asked Suozzi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “How can we do it cheaper, faster, better or more effectively?”
More than 300 representatives from at least 150 Long Island defense companies attended the meeting in the atrium of the Tilles Center at LIU Post in Brookville.
Eric Chewning, deputy assistant secretary of defense for manufacturing and industrial base policy, spoke on a panel with representatives from Northrop Grumman, Boeing and BAE Systems, all of which use Long Island companies as subcontractors.
Chewning said that some subcontractors are clustered around major manufacturers like Boeing in St. Louis, but others have developed expertise in a particular technology like sensors and optics in Rochester.
“You might want to take a look at Pittsburgh,” which was designated as a robotics manufacturing hub by the Defense Department, Chewing said.
Suozzi, who has made uniting and growing Long Island’s defense industry a major initiative of his freshman term in Congress, acknowledged that getting such a designation for Long Island is a “long shot.”
Panelist Patricia McMahon, vice president of supply chain for Northrop Grumman, said her company spends more than $200 million a year with Long Island suppliers, but warned that subcontractors must adapt to new technologies.
For instance, McMahon said, machine shops increasingly will have to shift from working with metal to composites.
“That’s a different technology,” she said.
Another panelist, Camille Geiger, enterprise global diversity division leader at Boeing, said Long Island parallels parts of Michigan, which has sought new markets for products to replace business from the auto industry.
Suozzi said his 3rd Congressional District, which includes northern Nassau and northwestern Suffolk, accounts for $1.7 billion per year in defense contracts directly from the federal government, leading New York State.
That number, however, does not include Long Island companies’ subcontracts with major defense contractors.
“We need to quantify how big this business really is on Long Island,” he said.