December 2004/January 2005
Volume 03, Issue 8
|Integrated Defense Systems|
THINKING about the future
The pastoral surroundings of Huntsville, Ala., belie the high-tech activity taking place among the city's aerospace companies. Among the leaders here: Boeing.
BY AMY REAGAN
Oftentimes, perception is very different from reality. A disinterested student is actually a genius, or a penny-pinching person is a closet millionaire. The same can be said for Huntsville, Ala.
Nestled between the foothills and cotton fields of north Alabama, Huntsville appears to be a small town surrounded by farms. But at its center is a haven of science and technology-a place that's a vital player in the United States' space exploration and missile defense programs.
Huntsville hosts many leading U.S. aerospace companies-large and small-and major U.S. government organizations including NASA's Marshall Space Center, the Missile Defense Agency, the Army's Space and Missile Defense and Aviation and Missile Commands, and many innovative technology developers from the commercial sector. One of the shining stars in Huntsville is Boeing.
A study conducted earlier this year by the University of Alabama found that Boeing operations in Huntsville and nearby Decatur contribute a full 1 percent of the gross state product, for an average of $1.2 billion annually. In 2003, Boeing was responsible for more than 9,000 jobs directly and indirectly in Alabama; and compensation for the average Boeing job in 2003 was twice the average for Alabama workers, ultimately contributing to a higher standard of living in the region. These results make Boeing a key player in the north Alabama community.
"Boeing has remarkable presence in north Alabama. You can't talk about the state's economic success in the last 50 years without prominently mentioning The Boeing Company," said U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.), speaking to a group of community leaders earlier this year.
A START FROM SATURN V
Boeing's involvement in Huntsville began in 1962, when the company established Huntsville operations to support initial development of the Saturn V rocket's Stage 1 booster. Boeing Huntsville grew from a handful of employees working in a downtown hotel in 1962 to a peak of about 4,500 employees in 1966.
During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Huntsville continued its support of the nation's space program, including the design, development and production of the International Space Station. In 2001, the Huntsville-built Destiny laboratory module was delivered to the International Space Station on orbit more than 200 miles overhead.
In 1984 Boeing built a facility on 110 acres near Huntsville International Airport. The complex, ultimately composed of four main buildings spanning nearly 600,000 square feet (54,000 square meters), supported the work being performed for the space programs, various military programs and military modeling, simulation, and training systems efforts.
The decision to make room for military programs laid the foundation for the Boeing Huntsville of today.
"We have a long history of supporting the nation's space and defense initiatives," said Peri Widener, senior site executive, IDS - Huntsville. "Our employees have demonstrated their system engineering and integration abilities across a wide spectrum, and shown agility and innovation in supporting our customers. This commitment to excellence, coupled with flexibility and affordability, is serving us well as the site focuses on supporting its business unit customers in executing critical space and defense programs."
Approximately half of the 2,700 employees in Huntsville support space programs, including International Space Station; Space Shuttle Main Engine, return to flight and space exploration activities; and Boeing Satellite Systems. The other half work on Boeing defense programs, including the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense system, Short Range Air Defense Systems and Arrow anti-ballistic missile programs.
"Our site has a unique challenge in that we support so many different programs and customers," Widener said. "But our overarching goal is to ensure quality in everything we do, every day, ultimately providing excellent products and support to our customers."
To sharpen the focus on providing excellence, Huntsville last year formed a Business Excellence organization. It focuses on integrating key business activities, including Capability Maturity Model Integration, Lean, ISO technical standards and process management, among others. CMMI is an industry-recognized framework providing insight to the ability of a company to execute on proposed projects.
"Huntsville has long been a leader in continuous improvement and creating value for our customers," said Will Cook, Business Excellence team lead in Huntsville. "We are building on the legacy by putting a little more structure to our actions to make them affect a bigger picture."
A central part of ensuring excellence is ensuring that Boeing employees are part of decision making processes. "It's vitally important that our employees be involved in making improvements and impacting the decisions that ultimately affect them." Widener said.
An example can be seen in the PAC-3 program.
This year, employees on the program have participated in three Accelerated Improvement Workshops, resulting in increased efficiency and cost reductions in several areas. Boeing builds the seeker for the PAC-3 missile.
And on the Arrow program a new college hire designed the new Arrow facility to Lean standards.
"We had a rare opportunity to take Lean guidelines and build around them rather than struggle with an existing production line that would already have established processes, equipment and preconceived ideas on how to do things," Program Manager Mark Smith said. "Having a new employee, someone right out of college, design the facility ensured that the layout utilized the latest research in the field."
HELPING THE SITE, COMMUNITY
Over the past year, five affinity groups have been formed at Huntsville. These groups support the company's diversity strategy and give employees an opportunity to network with others and learn about different cultures.
Heather Brice, Future Combat Systems pool focal in Rate Forecasting and Management, is a member of Boeing Women in Leadership of Alabama. She said the affinity groups help both the members and the company.
"The affinity groups give employees the opportunity to learn more about the company and interact and network with other employees from across the company," Brice said. "By learning more about the company, we in turn become more effective employees."
Another set of employee groups are the Employee Advisory Councils. In Huntsville, EACs have played an important role in working with senior managers to develop action plans to address shortfalls noted in Boeing's annual Employee Survey.
While Huntsville employees are busy with their daily work, many still find time to participate in community activities. In 2003, Boeing Huntsville employees donated more than 19,000 volunteer hours in the community and more than $560,000 through the Employees Community Fund.
The Boeing Employees Volunteer Community Assistance Program supports at least one volunteer activity per month, ranging from collecting food and clothing donations for area homeless shelters to coordinating Boeing volunteers to support Huntsville's cultural events and activities. Other activities are year-round, such as Boeing Buddies, in which several Boeing Huntsville engineers visit a local Boys and Girls Club to tutor children.
Brian Hilson, president and chief executive officer of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, said Boeing has a positive impact on Huntsville in numerous ways. "Boeing is one of the community's most respected employers. The employees are heavily involved in activities contributing to Huntsville's high quality of life," he said.
Indeed, Huntsville is not the small country town some may think. One Huntsville employee who learned that firsthand is Roger Watkins. He and his wife, both native Californians, moved to Huntsville in July 2003. "When I prepared to make my first trip to Huntsville in the early 1980s, I thought it wasn't the end of the world, but you could see it from there," Watkins said.
Now, however, he said it's a different story.
"Huntsville offers a great combination of a high standard of living, cultural activities, incredible home values, terrific public golf courses, water skiing only a few minutes away-all in a friendly community with clean air and no traffic congestion," he said. "We absolutely love it here and we have no plans to leave."
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