England pushes aviation, aerospace and education

Marice Richter Business Press Correspondent 

A traffic jam on Interstate 35W made Gordon England nearly two hours late for his speaking engagement at the recent Aviation & Aerospace Industry Manufacturing Summit near Alliance Airport, forcing organizers to scramble the event schedule. By the time England arrived, he had been battling snarled traffic for more than three hours to make his way from his Benbrook home to North Fort Worth. But England seemed calm and unfazed by the hiccup. Those waiting to hear his keynote address at the summit hosted by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide remained eager to hear his message. No wonder. As a former Deputy Secretary of Defense and president of the General Dynamics Fort Worth Division (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company), England is a coveted speaker on the lecture circuit. His key topics are economic development and national security, key components for the development and growth of the aviation and aerospace industry whose leaders were in the audience. “Technological innovation is key to maintaining our competitive edge,” he said. “Education is the key to technological innovation and America’s future.” With a captive audience of aviation and aerospace industry leaders, academics and engineers, England had high praise for the industry, its innovations such as the F-35 joint strike fighter jet and its contributions to the economic well-being of the United States, Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The D-FW area ranks fourth in the number of jobs in the industry, he noted. In 2012, the aerospace industry accounted for $218 billion in sales and was one of a few sectors that maintained a positive trade balance, amounting to $84 billion in civil aerospace exports, $11 billion in military aerospace exports and $63 billion in trade surplus. Furthermore, the industry directly supports 630,000 jobs and indirectly supports 1.5 million jobs and plays a critical role in national defense. “But we can’t rest on our laurels,” he said, seguing into an issue that has become his mantra on the lecture circuit: the United States is losing ground in the global technology race. While the U.S. has been a global leader in aviation and aerospace, and has had a “long and distinguished history” in this industry, “but it needs attention,” he said. England has been sounding this alarm for years. “Every time I speak, I mention science and technology because it is a deep concern,” he said as Deputy Secretary of Defense in a 2007 speech at the 5th Annual Missile Defense Conference. ”They are the foundations of our nation and our economy – not natural resources. “It’s an area in which we can ill afford not to lead, but we’re losing our edge. The number of graduates in hard sciences is going down,” he said in the speech. Only 4 percent of U.S. undergrads are studying engineering compared with 13 percent in the European nations and 23 percent in Asia, he noted. Despite high pay for engineers, jobs are going unfilled. And the outlook is not good: veteran engineers are retiring or will retire at a time when there aren’t enough skilled workers to replace them, he said. But most chilling of all is that the American system of education is faltering: the U.S. ranks 16th in the world in adult reading skills and 21st in math skills, pointing to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. “One-third of all teens across the U.S. don’t graduate from high school,” England said. England has his own ideas about reversing the trend, including making science and math in high school more hands-on and project-based as well as “design-based” in college, allowing students to learn the underlying math and physics through experience. “It’s terrific that someone of his stature is trying to carry the banner on this matter,” said Robert Materna, professor of business administration at the Center for Aviation & Aerospace Leadership in the College of Business at Embry-Riddle. “He’s a remarkable person and certainly an expert on aerospace engineering. “The good news is that we are starting to get a handle on the scope of the problem,” Materna said. “We just all need to pull together – the government, industries and universities – to come up with good solutions. There is still a lot of work to do.” The engineering profession and the aviation and aerospace industry are close personal interests for England, a native of Baltimore who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1961. An engineering job brought him to Fort Worth in 1966. In 1975, he earned a MBA from Texas Christian University. His business career spanned more than 40 years as an aerospace engineer and senior executive positions. Prior to serving as president of the General Dynamics Fort Worth Division, he served in other positions with the firm, including president of engineering at General Dynamics Land Systems and as corporate Executive Vice President of General Dynamics Information Systems and Technology Sector, Ground Combat Systems Sector and International Sector. He served as the 29th Deputy Secretary of Defense and two times as U.S. Secretary of the Navy in the George W. Bush presidential administration. He was also the first Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. England has served in many civic, charitable and government organizations, including vice chair of the national board of Goodwill, International; the USO’s Board of Governors; the Board of Visitors at TCU; and the Benbrook City Council. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the University of Maryland and is a chairman of the Foundation Board of the U.S. Naval Institute and chairman of the Heroes and Families Foundation. A 76-year-old grandfather, England is not ready to rest on his professional laurels. Besides the lecture circuit, he is president of E6 Partners LLC, a firm specializing in defense, security and mergers and acquisitions for national and international companies. He also is the executive chairman and of Totus Solutions, Inc., a firm specializing in lighting-based security systems. He serves on the board of directors of other start-up technical companies as well. “I don’t have a traditional 9 to 5 job but I do lots of work,” he said. Although he travels frequently, and spent many years based in Washington, D.C., England said he has always considered Fort Worth home. “I’ve always had a home here,” he said. “I always say I stay in Washington but live here,” he said. A car enthusiast – not a collector, he claims – he owns a 1926 Model T that he acquired through a friend and a 1958 MGA. His personal car for commuting around town is a 1997 Corvette. But as he recently discovered, even a car built for performance and speed doesn’t help make good time in an epic Fort Worth traffic jam.