There’s a wide, open field of opportunity for advanced engineering and technical manufacturing in Lorain County — you just have to look up.

The aerospace industry is a veteran in Lorain County. Companies such as Parker Hannifin and Crane Aerospace have been producing in-demand parts for decades, before the word “biotech” was given any attention in this region.

“The aerospace industry is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the state of Ohio and in this region,” says Donald Majcher, vice president of technology and innovation for the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland. “So much of the industry base here is focused on biomedical and, historically, automotive, that the aerospace industry story never really got told.”

And that story is big one.

The Ohio aerospace, aviation and defense industry employs more than 100,000 workers, according to the Ohio Aerospace & Business Aviation Council. Wages are an average 65 percent higher in this industry than in other manufacturing jobs. In Lorain County, those jobs are found at Parker Hannifin divisions (Avon and Elyria) and Crane Aerospace in Elyria. Meanwhile, Ohio exports about $4 billion in aerospace products, making it the second-largest industry here, Majcher says.

And, chances are, if you fly on any type of aircraft from a business jet to a commercial plane, there’s a piece of Lorain County craftsmanship on board. Specifically, Parker Hannifin’s Aircraft Wheel & Brake Division in Avon produces what’s considered the industry Cadillac of wheels and brakes, found on business and general aviation aircraft. Up the road in Elyria, Parker Hannifin’s Hydraulic Valve Division supplies pumps that go into planes of all sizes, from commercial transport to private aircraft. Its neighbor, Crane Aerospace, produces pump components and rotors for Boeing, General Electric Engines, Delta, Continental and others.

Plus, this region is a pot of gold in terms of skilled labor and resources, including the Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI), Lorain County Community College (LCCC) and supportive arms such as the SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems (SMART Center) that help drive innovation.

“Our roots are here,” says Michael Walasinski, general manager of Parker Hannifin Aircraft Wheel & Brake Division, Avon. This division has been in the region for more than 50 years. “We are fortunate to have a talented, committed, dedicated workforce. If you have people with the right attitude and the right abilities, there is nothing that will get in your way in terms of being successful.”

Indeed, the future looks bright for companies invested in the aerospace industry. The industry at large is expected to double in size in the next 10 years, Majcher says. “So companies that stay abreast of innovation and work in this industry will continue to grow and prosper.”

High Performers

Parker Hannifin owns the wheel and brake market for small aircraft as the largest provider of wheels and brakes for customers such as Cessna, Piper Aircraft and Hawker Beechcraft. One of the lines produced at the Avon facility, which employs about 110 people, is called Cleveland Wheels & Brakes, and the brand is widely known in the industry as a quality component.

These wheel and brake assemblies are found on most single- and twin-engine propeller jet aircraft that fly individuals and companies around the world. In fact, Parker Hannifin’s Aircraft Wheels & Brakes Division holds about 90 percent of the market share in this space. Companies producing planes purchase the Cleveland Wheels & Brakes brand; and the component is also sold as an aftermarket part — an add-on to enhance an aircraft.

All told, Parker Hannifin Aerospace as a company is 75 years old and a Tier I supplier to prime manufacturers all over the world. (The bedrock Fortune 300 corporation produced $12 billion in sales in 2010.) In Avon, Walasinski says a staff of engineers, lab technicians, manufacturing professionals and a business-development team focus on rolling out innovations that cater to what their customers want: cost-effective, cutting-edge technology.

“We continue to advance our product line and offer innovative solutions to owner/operators that are flying today, and we have expanded into larger markets,” Walasinski says.

Still, the division faces some of the same challenges any manufacturing company does in today’s competitive marketplace. Because it supplies parts for smaller aircraft — the most expensive aircraft with its wheels and brakes costs $8 million, which is modest in the aviation world — Walasinski says the company must focus on bringing innovation that customers can afford to the market.

The division has been “performing well” despite the recession, he adds. Diversifying its product offering and growing a stronger presence in the military segment has helped it grow. In fact, the wheel and brake assemblies produced in Avon are used on the U.S. military’s stealthy V-22 Osprey tilt0rotor hybrid aircraft.

In fact, there is a significant defense infrastructure throughout Northeast Ohio, says Majcher, and there are many companies such as Parker Hannifin, Crane Aerospace and smaller ones that are making parts, components and designs for the aerospace and defense industries.

Majcher says Lorain County is well equipped to grow more business in this sector. “That comes out of the good heritage that has been here with high-tech manufacturing and making products for the transportation industry,” he says.

Steve Morey, president and CEO of Team Lorain County, adds, “There is no doubt we have a legacy in the aerospace industry here.” Take Crane Aerospace, which has been producing components in its Elyria facility since 1904. “The fact that historically, in this region, we have been innovators and the makers of products gives us the skills necessary to participate in this high-tech industry,” he says.

Continuing the Legacy

During World War II, what is now Crane Aerospace was producing pump components for the military, says Vadim Lvovich, Ph.D., a principal engineer at the Elyria facility. Lvovich came to the aerospace industry last year after working in the biomedical field and at Lubrizol. He says he was surprised to learn just how far-reaching the industry potential is. “Aerospace is a large and growing industry with a global reach,” Lvovich says. “And it requires a lot of components that are manufactured locally.”

In particular, Lvovich is referring to the pumps, flow meters and fluid sensors produced at Crane Aerospace. On the fluid management side of the business, Crane has more than half of the world’s market share. The Elyria plant employs 300 people.

Workers assemble pump components and rotors that are shipped to customers including Boeing and General Electric Engines in Cincinnati. Crane’s client base is the “who’s who of commercial and defense aviation,” Lvovich says.

Innovation at Crane is driven by customer demand. “We have ongoing dialogue with customers and, based on market assessment and existing products, we determine how we can satisfy the need,” Lvovich says, adding the workforce in Lorain County that is educated in product development processes has served the company well. Electrical and mechanical engineers and professionals who understand advanced manufacturing are employed at the facility.

The Ohio Aerospace Institute serves as a business-development partner and connector, helping firms interested in pursuing aerospace develop important relationships with others in the industry. OAI works closely with the SMART Center, LCCC, JumpStart and other area innovation drivers to help companies reach their potential. It also manages and leverages a wide range of consortiums and partnerships and provides member companies with easy access to Ohio’s anchor aerospace players: Wright Patterson Air Force Base, NASA Glenn Research Center and regional manufacturers and suppliers. It is funded through memberships and does not receive grants or public funding.

The advantage to larger companies such as Crane Aerospace who work with OAI is, for instance, assistance with finding development partners. “OAI helps us primarily in filling technology gaps,” Lvovich says, citing high-temperature electronics as an example.

The SMART Center serves as a “source of growth,” Lvovich says. “It will fuel companies like ours and other manufacturing firms in terms of supporting our product development cycles.” The SMART Center is a shared resource center located on the LCCC campus that offers access to specialty high-tech equipment at reasonable rates. The center addresses technology in the area of sensors and microsystems — sensors are everywhere in aerospace and much of the transportation industry.

“Everything in aerospace is highly instrumented,” says Chris Mather, managing director at the SMART Center. “Sensors of today allow you to make more accurate measurements and measure what you couldn’t before.” Sensors can be packaged, tested and interfaced at the SMART Center — and that’s 70 percent of the time and engineering effort required to get a sensor to market, Mather says.

Meanwhile, LCCC provides the learning foundation for a skilled workforce that is qualified to work in the aerospace industry, says Tom Dorinsky, business team leader at Parker Hannifin Aircraft Wheel & Brake Division. “We are frequently using the facilities there and the training opportunities it affords the area in terms of specialized programs for our shop and office personnel,” he says.

Of the 110 employees at Parker Hannifin in Avon, Dorinsky estimates at least 85 percent are from Northeast Ohio. “We pull our workforce from the Greater Cleveland area,” he says, including Lorain County.

Advocating for Aerospace

Even with all these local resources, the aerospace industry seems to be a secret to those not working in it. With longstanding corporate divisions in the county exporting to customers including American Airlines, Cessna, Airbus and Lockheed Martin, the region’s key industry players want more people to know about the market opportunity.

So, in the summer of 2009, Parker Hannifin began entertaining conversations and holding townhall meetings in Lorain County and beyond to promote awareness of general aviation. “It’s important for people to understand what we do and the importance of the industry, and to gain support for aerospace industry,” Dorinsky says.

The company has worked to restore the image of general aviation and help people understand the sector is primarily composed of aircraft that “does good,” not corporate jets for the elite. “These aircraft are the only way to get into remote locations throughout the world to provide medical and food support,” Dorinsky explains. “These aircraft support air-ambulance programs around the world. Most of general aviation is used for very positive, humanitarian efforts and legitimate business for individuals who are typically flying to locations to solve problems for customers.”

The more general aviation is supported, the more business for Parker Hannifin’s Aircraft Wheels & Brakes division. “And that means more opportunity for us to expand our workforce,” Walasinski says.

OAI has been working with the industry base to ensure there is an active voice in Washington D.C., advocating for aerospace. In Lorain County, Congresswoman Betty Sutton has also been an industry advocate. “You have a leader from Lorain County who is trying to go forward and break down barriers, and to try to drive growth [for the aerospace industry],” Majcher says.

It all seems to be working. Companies in this industry are reporting growth with a forecast of continued success.

“Our long history, legacy and strong brand name allows us to continue to build our future,” Walasinski says. “We are spending a significant amount of money on development efforts and projects to allow the next generation of Aircraft Wheel & Brake employees to enjoy the same level of success that we enjoy today.”