Episode 148 - Michigan: The New Epicenter of Aerospace

As the birthplace of the automotive industry and the home of several aviation firsts, Michigan offers unique advantages to the rapidly expanding space economy.

To make the most of this opportunity, the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA) has convened three public-private partnerships: the Michigan Launch Initiative, Space-Enabled Communications for Advanced Mobility, and the Mid-America Hypersonic Suborbital Test Range. These programs provide a collaborative platform for public-private partners to support satellite launch capabilities, test commercial and national security applications, and expand 5G connectivity, among other opportunities.

We sat down with Gavin P. Brown, Executive Director, MAMA, to discuss these exciting initiatives and learn how the organization is positioning Michigan as a leader in all phases of aerospace manufacturing—from tool and die all the way through final assembly—by leaning on the state’s rich automotive and aviation history.

Meet Our Guest

Executive Director, Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association

As Executive Director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), Gavin Brown is committed to establishing Michigan as a leader in the commercialization of near-Earth space and as a source for highly qualified suppliers to the Defense, Commercial, General Aviation, and UAV aerospace manufacturing sectors.

Gavin is recognized as the driving force for promoting aerospace and defense companies active in Michigan. With more than 25 years of aerospace experience, Gavin founded MAMA in 2007.

MAMA is a membership association providing the global aerospace industry with state-of-the-art technology, multiple manufacturing disciplines and extensive manufacturing capabilities. MAMA is focused on growing Michigan’s Aerospace industry through synergy with the engineering and manufacturing competencies of the automotive industry.

Gavin has been instrumental in organizing and promoting the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI), a public-private partnership that provides a collaborative platform for academia, industry, and governmental agencies to access near-earth space.

The MLI will provide vertical and horizontal rocket launch capability as well as a control center for post-launch operations. The MLI leverages Michigan’s unique advantages for polar orbit satellite launches: location, infrastructure, skilled workforce, economy and advanced manufacturing capability.


Grayson Brulte:

Hello, I'm your host, Grayson Brulte. Welcome to another episode of SAE Tomorrow Today a show about emerging technology and trends in mobility with leaders and innovators who make it all happen. On today's episode, we're absolutely honored to be joined by Gavin P Brown, Executive Director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association.

On this episode, we'll discuss the Michigan Launch Initiative and the impact of the growing aerospace industry in the state of Michigan. We hope you enjoy this episode. Gavin, welcome to the podcast, 

Gavin P. Brown:

Grayson, I appreciate the time and looking forward to interacting with you and listening, learning, and working with all our fine fans out there in the aerospace.

Grayson Brulte:

We're looking to learn from you on today's podcast cuz Michigan's building in the future have a very rich aerospace industry, have a very rich automotive industry. But today we're gonna focus on the aerospace industry to kick things off, Gavin, what is the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association and why was it founded in 2007?

Gavin P. Brown:

Before I started the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, I was doing supply integration for other, in. One being the chemical distribution. What I found in the aerospace industry in Michigan is that the focus was primarily on automotive suppliers and the supply chain. And Michigan had a very rich aerospace capability industry from engineering, manufacturing, but it wasn't a collaborative.

Quite frankly, where we found a large contribution to the aerospace industry, the thought of putting together a supply chain integration so that not only could they grow that through that, but they could also then start looking at how do you use a supply chain? And integrate that for not only raw material, but gaining more transactions in business.

Grayson Brulte:

Do you find that the aerospace industry in Michigan is a collaborative industry where they wanna learn from each other, help each other succeed? 

Gavin P. Brown:

I think that's a growing evolution. Most businesses we're independent. So if they were in either engineering machine components, if they were doing. that was specific.

I think what you're seeing now as the customer asked for more of a integrated product, that the collaboration effort from engineering to the delivery of a component now involves collaboration. 

Grayson Brulte:

There's several aerospace association or around the United States, and that, for a matter of fact, around the world your associations based in Michigan. What strategic advantages does it give you being based in Michigan. 

Gavin P. Brown:

There is a few advantages that I saw right off the bat. So first of all, the rich environment from the automotive world gave us a unique perspective on mass production. And what I did see in the aerospace industry is traditionally they saw themselves as low volume, high mix, and the separation with the automotive was automotive.

High volume, low mix. But I think what they eventually as well as today are finding that the technologies in advanced manufacturing both are dependent on it and being both dependent on it. How do they learn from that? So Michigan with this rich, I call it in their DNA of auto mass production, is now helping the aerospace and space industry understand as it goes.

One-offs, two mass production. How do you get there? Not only in a timely manner, but in how do you put that supply chain together? So that you can achieve the goals such as producing space vehicles every 72 hours in the near future.

Grayson Brulte:

In order to do that, you have to have a supply chain, but you also have to have, I'll call it a rich understanding or a rich history.

In the aerospace industry. I'd like for the listeners to highlight some really important facts about Michigan. Willow Run produced one airplane an hour, and between 1926 and 1932 Ford, the Ford Motor Company produced more than 200 tribe motor airplanes, commonly known as the Tin Goose airplane was used by TWA, otherwise known as Trans World Airlines, to inaugurate the first coast to coast passenger service in 1930, in 1930.

That happened in. Michigan. Michigan. Michigan. It wasn't Howard Hughes in California. It happened in Michigan. I'd love to know Gavin. What other aviation first happened in Michigan? 

Gavin P. Brown:

Michigan's the birthplace of William Boeing. Kelly Johnson, others Charles Lindbergh. What people, I think because of the auto industry overshadowing the accomplishments in aerospace and.

Didn't realize the impact of space, because quite frankly, when you talk about automotive, everybody sees it. You drive in a car, not very many people get to go up into the space. So I think what you found there was a, and I still find this understanding space and everything. It means the companies that are involved and the rich contribution that we made in manufac.

as well as engineering. A lot of people don't know in the early space days right on just north of Van Dyke and 15 Mile, we were producing parts for the spaceships to go up in the early days. So the auto industry did make ventures into that. But again, I think it was that culture of the low volume, high mix as opposed to what they were used to. Just didn't, it was like putting on a size 12 shoe. When you wear an eight, it's still a shoe, but it didn't fit exactly what you thought. 

Grayson Brulte:

For that matter of fact, try and put on a twice a size 22 Shaquille O'Neill he'll fall over trying to walk in. That is manufacturing the secret sauce that Michigan has that benefits the aerospace industry.

Gavin P. Brown:

I'd like to say it's advanced manufacturing moving into technology manufacturing. So what we're finding today is you hear the major automotive companies no longer claiming that they're automotive companies, they're technology companies. So while our early history was strictly manufacturing and mass production, I think what you're now finding is that inclusion of advanced technology and it's going to migrate.

To quantum computing. So when you get a different platform that can provide a lot more, that advanced model manufacturing is going to take another evolutionary step for both aerospace and automotive, and that's the crossovers that you're starting to see is that technology can be shared and learned from each other.

Another great one is you hear about the autonomous ground vehicles, everyone's talking about when are we gonna get those self-driving? In aerospace it's called an automatic pilot that's been around for many decades. So what you're finding is those technologies are slowly starting to compliment one another's progress and growth.

Grayson Brulte:

As the auto companies, and you said become technology companies that have been very public about this, do they, does the complimentary overlaps just accelerate as the automotive industry develops more and more technology. 

Gavin P. Brown:

I believe it does. I think traditionally they'd like to stand alone ground vehicles for ground vehicles.

Aerospace and space was up in the air and each kept to their own bowling lane. Now, I think what they're saying is, how do we listen and learn from one another? And that is a evolution because the technologies they can see are needed on both sides. And so they can compliment each other as opposed to looking solely at what year needed for either cars are playing through space vehicles.

Grayson Brulte:

I wanna put some numbers to this. We all say the billions of dollars at the automotive industry and Michigan generates, but there's 600 aerospace companies located in Michigan. And collectively combine these companies should rate more than a billion dollars of annual revenue, I repeat, a billion dollars in annual revenue.

That's a very big positive start for this industry. With a growing industry. How is the state legislative body reacting? This one they're cheering it on. Say, okay, Gavin, come on, make a 2 billion, make a 3 billion. Cheer it on. Build it up. 

Gavin P. Brown:

We were fortunate in that we worked with the legislators to do studies through the Michigan Launch Initiative, which they supported what those studies show, and those numbers really are even being revised as we speak upwards. But the legislators are always looking at what will technology play in the role of Michigan's growth, both in what I call gold collar jobs.

As well as technical in other ancillary jobs that compliment those industries of technology. So they're very interested in the economic impact. You refer to that $1 billion when you see that they're projecting that the aerospace and space industry is literally gonna be in the trillions of dollars of annual spent by 2040.

How? We get more of that slice of pie by building upon the technology as well as the advanced manufacturing that can enable both industries to grow. And I think the legislators are very keenly aware that if Michigan doesn't get those jobs, they go somewhere and they will go to other states if we don't work together and collaborative.

To start doing a very robust attraction package for not only the aerospace companies, but for the talent. And so I'd like to say when you look at the universities, the great universities we have here, U of M, Michigan State, Wayne State, Michigan Tech, and all the others, we are actually training and teaching folks to be aerospace engineers, but they have to go to other states.

the legislators are very concerned. How do we import jobs here as opposed to training folks and exporting that talent outside the state. So the legislators, I think you're gonna see here in the next couple years, focus on how do we evolve those technologies to build aerospace and they want that to happen.

So we're working very closely with them on how to attract both talent and aerospace companies to locate here in Michigan. 

Grayson Brulte:

It comes down to job creation. What you described as going to create new high, high-paying job is gonna create manufacturing jobs. It's gonna create, you said gold color jobs. Could you shed some light on the job creation?

You have the great university system in Michigan and you want to keep them in the state to either go into aerospace or automotive to stay in the. , what's being done to create those jobs? Are you working with your members to do apprenticeships, internships, to potentially expose a second year or third year college student to the opportunities in the Michigan aerospace industry?

Gavin P. Brown:

We are, so I'd like to take it even to those students in eighth grade and above. So just the last weekend we did STEM training where we brought in an astronaut. We brought in a team from higher orbit. To do STEM training where the kids actually over two days got to develop an experiment and we have a contest that MAMA sponsors for these students to compete to put an actual experiment into space next year.

So start that enthusiasm at a young age, create that ground base. Capabilities and talent so that when companies are looking for that talent, they see it here and wanna locate here. So I think what you have to do is you have to think first. How do we provide that opportunity for those that, not when they're in college, but before then, Create a atmosphere of economic growth around what that talent can produce, and then aggressively pursue that so that we compliment the space efforts.

You're not gonna displace Cape Canaveral. Or Vandenberg or Texas has a Grow, Boca Chica and the other surrounding area. But what we can do is play a large part in the growth of that technology that helps lift those vehicles off into space and into the commercial. Aerospace here as well as abroad.

Grayson Brulte:

You clearly have the talent pool, you have the enthusiasm, the next aspect is the infrastructure. When you're meeting with an aerospace company that says, Hey, Gavin, we're interested in possibly relocating to Michigan or opening operations and Michigan, what do you say when they talk about the infrastructure? Do you lay out the vision for the infrastructure? How would you describe it to a prospective aerospace company looking to possibly relocate to.

Gavin P. Brown:

You look at some of those companies that have relocated like the, there's plane wave in Adrian. There's Atlas Satellite in Traverse City, Orbion up in Northern Michigan in the UP. But these companies are finding is that talent they're looking for, but they're also finding a environment that the attraction of talent that wants to enjoy a four season lifestyle that wants to raise families can do so that they don't have to move to the coastlines. So these companies are looking at low cost assets so that not only the talent, when I say low cost for land relative to California or Florida, New York, or Texas, but they're also looking at the overall picture.

What's the overall cost, the 360 degree outlook of that environment. Michigan, when I think you take all those factors in is very attractive. 

Grayson Brulte:

Is quality of life for the employees that are potentially relocating. One of the big defining factors of why a company wanna relocate there. 

Gavin P. Brown:

Yeah, and I'll give you my synopsis of. I'm 63, and so it was very common for people to move wherever the job opportunity existed. I think what we see with the generations now is they're a little more focused, which I like on how they live. And where they live and the quality of life for them and their families that they're raising.

And I think when you look at Michigan, it really is a four season enjoyable for both outdoor and indoor living, but not the traffic and the congestion of a coastlines. And I think that quality of life is something that, my opinion, the younger generations are much more in tuned. and I compliment them, but they are moving.

In fact, if you look at Traverse City one of the highest zip codes for high tech people in the last two years moving in. So these are the attractions and we want to continually espouse to the US and the whole world come to Michigan. 

Grayson Brulte:

What does the Michigan Launch Initiative play in this effort? Is that a critical tool in your toolbox that helps Brit, these companies in so when they're there, they're able to scale their businesses and grow their businesses in Michigan. 

Gavin P. Brown:

The Michigan Launch Initiative was initially designed to do studies on the viability of space ports, space launches, and increasing Michigan's economic development in space.

What those studies showed is that yes, for both the horizontal and vertical marketplace as well as space analytics and space command, that Michigan does have viability and sustainability for profitability for companies that participate. I would say one of the things that Michigan Launch Initiative will do is deliver on all of those.

I think one of the aspects I've learned with the Michigan Launch Initiative like any is it takes years to build, and so we're in the process of going through that building stage. But one of the things the studies did show us is that the space business itself really takes off, launches itself very aggressively in numbers in 2020.

So that the growth of the Michigan Launch Initiative is tied to that growth curve, and so you're going to see much more of the studies come into the viability of private and commercial companies coming forward, but it is developed around delivering from 2025 on. And so I think what you're going to.

Around the US is the growth of space is going to be looking for those capabilities. And so Michigan and the Michigan Launch Initiative has been focused on 2025 and beyond and on track to deliver in that timeframe. 

Grayson Brulte:

You could say, I'll use a funny pun. The industry's ready for takeoff. The, since you're fueled up, it's getting ready to go.

And you mentioned trillion dollars in annual revenue by 2040, the source not as Citibank. The industry is growing. It's not valuation. I wanna repeat. It's annual revenue. Repeat. 1 trillion in annual revenue by 2040. Not valuation. That's real money. That's sustaining a very. Industry, how are you preparing your members to benefit from the growing industry?

You said takeoff starts in 2025 and then it seems by, according to Citibank, by 2040, it really takes off. Now you're in deep space. 

Gavin P. Brown:

You are, and that doesn't include the growth in hypersonics, which is another plus. If as we evolve those technologies, I would say the best preparation for companies is to understand aerospace is what I call the long.

It's not where it's going to do an ROI in the next year or two alone. And if you're thinking short term, it probably isn't an industry for your business. But if you're looking, I like to call it an annuity business, if you're looking for that payback year in and year out, over and over again, look at the companies that have participated.

So it's helping not only the companies understand that, but the financial markets. That support with private investment, that the investment in the ROI is there, but it is a longer payoff, but it's also a very healthy payback. But I think what we have to do is help people understand that it's in different cycles in the automotive industry, and so preparing those companies to continually build.

On a continuum of investment as well as contribution that there is a growing industry. that they can participate for and with for decades to come. 

Grayson Brulte:

It's a growing industry with growing valuations. We can look in the public, sorry, private market to what SpaceX is currently valued at the company. It's phenomenal just from a valuation perspective, the growth and from a technical perspective to launch the astronauts the way it's doing from American soil.

It's great for the United States that the investments are happening in aerospace. You mentioned Hy Hypersonic there. You're currently convening organizations to develop a hypersonic suborbital test range. Could you talk about that initiative please? 

Gavin P. Brown:

During World War II a lot of the airspace. In and around Michigan and over the Great Lakes was, it's called MOA, and these MOAs were designed specifically for restricted airspace so that both the military and testing could take place.

This is the largest airspace, really east of the Mississippi and outside of Nellis Air Force Base and the surrounding area, Nevada is the largest area for. If you today want to test your hypersonic equipment systems and do research and development, you have to take it to the coastlines, pretty much so off the coast of Florida, California.

But if you're, let's say a company in Dayton, Ohio, this makes economic sense to be able to come just north. It also makes sense to, for the security of the testing and research and development to do it within. Homeland of MidAmerica. You may be aware of this, but after 25 miles, the international line out on the oceans, you can basically park your intelligence and watch everything.

Whereas you can do it here in the MidAmerica, you don't have that. Satellites will give them some information, but my point being is that when you think. How does hypersonic testing and development grow and especially with the growing demand going from Mach three to Mach five to Mach 10. This is what I like to share with folks, that hypersonic development will be dependent on technology.

So to do the telemetry from going from Mach 3 to Mach 10, the computing speed is going to have to be elevated to a point that can contribute as to, if you think about it in hypersonics instead of looking at where the system is in the air or where it has been. So this is part of the challenges we face with that growth, but we can go forward and that's why we're doing that and proposing that MidAmerica can contribute to the hypersonic growth of America's future and security. 

Grayson Brulte:

It's also more secure. You mentioned Mach, a great movie The Right Stuff pops into my mind. If you wanna understand, you can only get to Mach 1 in that movie, but you get a clear understanding of what Mach is from The Right Stuff. As you expand the aerospace industry in Michigan with your members of the organization, what role will a defense strategy play in that? Will you try to expand into DOD? You mentioned the security. You're not 25 miles off the shore. You're in a more secure environment. Will you look to do more defense applications? 

Gavin P. Brown:

We're gonna focus primarily on low Earth Orbit or leo, so the satellites and communication systems are going to play a large part.

And so what we've done with our conference we have every year, and we've had it for five. Is we focus on space. So this year last conference we had Lieutenant General Nina Armando, who's the director of staff headquarters for US Space Force. I'm meeting with general Purdy down at the Cape Canaveral to offer our capabilities.

The point being is that if we're focused on. an area where we can make impact, where we don't have to displace incumbent sources. Michigan can play a role in that, and that's what we're focused on. 

Grayson Brulte:

You have security and you have manufacturing capabilities and those two things are really good for an our national defense and for all the work that the men and women the Department of Defense do, are there low Earth satellites currently being launched in Michigan?

Are there plans for that? It seems like it might be a more secure location to potentially launch. 

Gavin P. Brown:

There is not presently a space port in the state of Michigan. In fact, if you look at the space port, A space port in Michigan would be the northern most that would exist. Vandenberg is probably the most northern latitude one.

If you look at the demand for polar orbits, that's what we'll focus on. If you look at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg and others, Vandenberg does do some polar, but they're mainly focused now on the equatorial satellites. We are gonna be focused on the polar. and the systems that need to be deployed in the polar orbit.

Grayson Brulte:

I'm an economist at heart, not by training. That's very smart because if you look at all the geopolitical tensions happening in the Arctic today, there's a growth opportunity for Michigan companies to, to serve the Arctic. 

Gavin P. Brown:

There is, and I think what you have to understand is that's going to be growing, not diminishing.

Yes. If you look at the proximity of the growth of that area to the United States, again, Michigan is strategically positioned. To be one of those leaders in not only what's going on in the Arctic, but to maintain a strategic position to help us. And I think that will be a ongoing issue as we go forward.

Not one that's gonna go away. I think it's gonna be a growing one.

Grayson Brulte:

I fully agree with you. It'll be a growing one. I'll have a positive economic benefit on the state of Michigan when you get your launch site up. Looking to the future. How do you view the aerospace industry growing in Michigan? Do you see new members coming in, new organizations, new plants? How do you see the industry growing in the state? 

Gavin P. Brown:

I'm a firm believer in value. You have to always provide value. So anyone who thinks you build it and they will come and not answer the question of value, you've got the wrong premise. So we always have to think what is the value and what in the marketplace does that value have?

Michigan has the ability to mass produce and the knowledge to do that as space and the aerospace industry grow. It demands more components, but also how do you produce those at a value. So I think we've been doing that for many years. Companies that have to deliver on value in many different aspects are going to be coming to Michigan.

Because it does have the talent, it does have the people, it does have the environment for value to help build both commercial and defense, aerospace and space. 

Grayson Brulte:

Michigan has the value proposition Outside of that, what is the future of aerospace in Michigan in addition to the value proposition? 

Gavin P. Brown:

I think as we advance the manufacturing processes.

As quantum computing comes into play with the autonomous automotive world, looking at that platform again, that plays very well because they compliment one another. So for instance, if you had a quantum. scalable platform and system today, which there isn't one. It would play a role both in the aerospace, hypersonic, and space industry, but it also would compliment industries like the automotive.

And so when we look at mobility, when you look at education, medicine, emergency services, that's all dependent on these technologies moving forward. Michigan with its talent, I firmly believe. Is gonna lead in the technology evolution coming forward. We don't have to look at Silicon Valley or the East coast for that.

We should be developing that rapidly. so that the contribution to America's future is soundly in what happens in Michigan. 

Grayson Brulte:

Michigan has a rich heritage to build upon both in the aerospace industry, the automotive industry. You have a very rich talent pool and most importantly, Michigans have a can-do attitude item.

A lot of Michigan is very well and they have a can-do. Your attitude and Gavin as. Look to wrap up this super insightful conversation, what would you like our listeners to take away with them today? 

Gavin P. Brown:

As the world is more inclusive, aerospace, Michigan can and will play a central role. Michigan's posed to take a central lead.

On this stage, we have all the factors ready. Sometimes we don't have to ask why. We have to say, how do we move that forward aggressively and attain and attract others here to the. And again, I firmly believe we have to think a little differently. How do we become an importer of talent rather than an exporter of talent?

And when you start thinking that way, how do you convene people to stay here with value, grow the industry to make people's lives better? Because quite frankly, again, what we got around to is how do you improve people's. And if we could play a central role in improving people's standard of living, that's shared by all Michigan then attracts not only the talent but the business to do creates jobs and improves the standard for all.

And that's what I'm a firm believer in. If we don't think that way, if we think it's just numbers, if you think that this magically happens, it's not going to. So I would say the space aerospace world is going to be growing at such. Not incremental rate, but an exponential rate. If we don't capture those jobs, if we don't look at ourselves as leaders, other states will then take that and move forward at our expense.

Grayson Brulte:

Michigan's stepping up to the plate, they're nurturing and building a prosperous aerospace industry cuz Michigan can and will play a central role in the future of aerospace. Today is tomorrow. Tomorrow's today and the future is Michigan Aerospace. Gavin, thank you so much for coming on SAE Tomorrow Today.

Gavin P. Brown:

Grayson, thank you for your time and for all the people that we serve. I think the future in the next two years, it's going to set the course for decades, so it's not something where you have time to vacillate on what we do. We either get on it in the next two years or we watch others move forward, and I think we should always be in the leading position with our government, with our leaders. And do that not only here but region. And then have that shared by all of the United States. 

Grayson Brulte:

Well said, sir. We'll close out this way. Always be a leader. Gavin, thank you so much. 

Gavin P. Brown:

Thank you kind sir. Have a good day.

Grayson Brulte:

Thank you for listening to SAE Tomorrow Today. If you've enjoyed this episode and would like to hear more, please kindly rate, review and let us know what topics you'd like for us to explore next. 

Be sure to join us next week as we speak with leaders from ChargerHelp! and SAE Sustainable Mobility Solutions about their new partnership aimed at constructing a safe and sustainable EV infrastructure. 

SAE International makes no representations as to the accuracy of the information presented in this podcast. The information and opinions are for general information only. SAE International does not endorse, approve, recommend or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this podcast.



Listen to the full back catalog on your favorite podcast platform.