Long Beach Reemerges as an Aerospace Hub

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Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket had its first successful launch in January.

Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket had its first successful launch in January.

From startups to established titans, aerospace companies are expanding their presence in Long Beach.
 
Companies including Relativity Space Inc., Rocket Lab USA Inc. and Virgin Orbit have established their headquarters in the city over the past few years, bringing thousands of local jobs and millions of dollars in payroll.
 
These newcomers join companies such as Boeing Co. and a wealth of support businesses that have long had a presence in Long Beach, in part because the city offers access to a wide talent pool.
 
“Long Beach is very clearly the headquarters choice for several modern space innovators,” said Seiji Steimetz, professor and chairman of economics, and director of the Office of Economic Research at Cal State Long Beach.

Long Beach — where Amelia Earhart fell in love with flying in 1920 — has a storied aerospace history that ramped up in the mid-20th century with military and commercial aircraft manufacturing. Over the past few years, the region has reemerged as a center of aerospace innovation to the degree that Steimetz has nicknamed it “Space Beach.”

High-paying jobs

Between 2018 and 2020, aerospace industry employment increased to 4,200 from 2,800 in Long Beach, representing a 48% jump, according to the California Employment Development Department. The industry makes up around 2.7% of all employment in Long Beach. That compares to aerospace jobs making up 1% of all employment in L.A. County.

Steimetz said aerospace companies are attracted to the region’s high concentration of talented engineers, along with younger talent that can be recruited from local schools such as UCLA, USC and Cal State Long Beach.
“There is a concentration of a certain type of talent pool,” Steimetz said. “And when you have a concentration of a certain type of talent for that, it makes sense for companies to locate near them.”
 
With good pay and extensive opportunities, Long Beach is an attractive area for these recruits, Steimetz added.
According to Economic Modeling, or Emsi, a labor market and economic data platform, average total take-home compensation in the aerospace industry in Long Beach is $144,099 a year. For comparison, the median household income in Long Beach was $63,017 in 2019, according to Census Bureau data.
 
Steimetz said job opportunities in Long Beach are on the rise. Since the start of 2021, aerospace postings have shot up 120% in the region, to 279 in July from 105 in January.
The aerospace industry represents 5.2% of Long Beach’s payroll. Steimetz said he estimates the sector’s total payroll in the city is quickly approaching $600 million annually.
 
“It should be noted that the share of payroll is considerably higher than the share of employment,” Steimetz said. “That’s because these are high-paying jobs.”
Several of the large companies rely on aviation suppliers that have called Long Beach home for decades, he added. These smaller businesses have long served commercial and military aircraft production in the area.
 
Part of what makes Long Beach special is its aviation history. Companies such as Wyatt Precision Machine Inc., Plasidyne Engineering and Manufacturing Inc., and NC Dynamics have each called the city home for more than 40 years, supplying parts for aerospace manufacturing.
 
Steimetz cited data from Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network, a public agency based in Long Beach, that said direct and indirect aerospace employment, which includes suppliers, totals around 6,500 jobs in the city.
“When industries concentrate together, they can be near the talent pool, and they can be near the supply chain,” Steimetz said. “And there are efficiencies and cost savings associated with being concentrated together.”

Moving in 
Steimetz said the “Space Beach” trend picked up in the past few years as newer space companies relocated their headquarters to increase recruitment and be close to suppliers.

But Long Beach has long been a hub for aerospace and aviation innovation, thanks in large part to Douglas Aircraft, which churned out military aircraft from its Long Beach plant at the rate of one plane an hour at the peak of production during World War II.
In 1967, Douglas merged with McDonnell Aircraft, creating McDonnell Douglas Corp., which was acquired by Boeing in 1997. The acquisition allowed Boeing to compete with fellow aerospace giant Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp.

Boeing, meanwhile, relied on Long Beach for production of its C-17 Globemaster III, a large military transport aircraft. That project ramped up in 2008 and increased local direct aerospace employment to 9,500, Steimetz said. Globemaster work slowed in 2013 when orders began drying up and officially ended in 2015, leading to a drop in local employment.
 
Still, Boeing retains several divisions in the area, as well as its Global Design Center. The company also has more than 40 suppliers in Long Beach and spends more than $86 million annually in the city, the company said.

“There’s so much talent and diversity here in Long Beach that it makes the city so attractive,” Lynette McKinnon, director of Boeing’s design center and Long Beach site executive, said in a statement. “It’s the perfect place for continued design and development.”
 
Other aerospace companies enjoy the professional environment to be found in Long Beach.
In 2019, SpinLaunch, which develops mass accelerator technology, moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to a 140,000-square-foot facility in Long Beach. Small-satellite launch provider Rocket Lab followed in 2020, moving its headquarters from Huntington Beach to Long Beach. And Virgin Orbit landed in the city in 2015 prior to spinning off from Mojave-based Virgin Galactic in 2017.
 
“There’s a lot to love about Long Beach,” Virgin Orbit’s Head of People and Culture Johanna Kent said in a statement. “The breadth and diversity of the local talent has allowed us to build the best rocket team in the business, and … given Long Beach’s aerospace heritage, there’s an abundance of local high-quality suppliers that have been wonderful partners for Virgin Orbit. ”
 
Relativity Space, which is working to manufacture rockets using 3D printers, relocated its headquarters from Inglewood to Long Beach in 2020 and announced in July plans to expand its headquarters by 1 million square feet.
“Securing this space for Relativity headquarters … is key for scaling out our Terran R program, while also continuing to tap into the unparalleled talent here,” Tim Ellis, Relativity’s chief executive and co-founder, said in a statement.

Virgin Orbit
FOUNDED: 
2017
CEO: Dan Hart
BUSINESS: Small-satellite launch services
EMPLOYEES: 600
VALUATION: $3 billion
MAJOR CLIENTS: Defense Department, SatRevolution, Royal Netherlands Air Force
PLANNED LAUNCHES: 1 (2021); 6 (2022)
2021 LAUNCHES TO DATE: 3
ABOUT THE COMPANY: Founded by aerospace and aviation mogul Richard Branson, Virgin Orbit focuses on launching small, low-Earth orbit satellites. The company spun off from Mojave-based Virgin Galactic, Branson’s space tourism venture, in 2017.
Virgin Orbit conducted its first successful launch of a rocket, LauncherOne, in January, and has since performed two other launches. The company designs and manufactures its LauncherOne rockets in Long Beach. In June, Virgin Orbit was reportedly in talks with Boca Raton, Fla.-based special purpose acqu
isition company NextGen Acquisition Corp. II to go public through a merger. 

Relativity Space
FOUNDED: 
2015
CEO: Tim Ellis
BUSINESS: 3D-printed rockets
EMPLOYEES: 500
FUNDING TO DATE: $1.3 billion
VALUATION: $4.2 billion
MAJOR CLIENTS: NASA, Defense Department, Telesat, TriSept Solutions Inc.
PLANNED LAUNCHES: 1 (2021)
2021 LAUNCHES TO DATE: None
ABOUT THE COMPANY: Though 3D printing has been used by rocket-makers in the past to manufacture individual parts, Relativity Space is taking the concept a step further. The company creates entirely 3D-printed rockets using its massive Stargate printers, with the goal of eventually bringing humanity to Mars.
In the past 12 months, Rocket Lab brought in nearly $1.2 billion in funding and announced plans to expand its headquarters by 1 million square feet at the…

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