A few years ago, Macomb County officials had a message for the county’s defense industry: “Get your head in the clouds.”

The idea was that suppliers in Macomb’s vaunted defense corridor could expand their horizons by pursuing contracts with the aerospace industry.

A major move in that direction took hold on Wednesday when 50 firms that made the cut – out of 300 applicants — met with representatives from a defense contractor giant, Lockheed Martin. This “matchmaking” event could lead to new economic activity and more jobs.

“This opportunity to highlight the high-tech capabilities of local companies really shows the commitment of all the partners involved to expand and solidify our manufacturing base,” said Grace Shore, CEO of the Macomb County Chamber. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our region.”

Of course, Macomb may soon have a direct link to Lockheed Martin if Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township is chosen as the newest location for the F-35 fighter jet, which is built by Lockheed. Five bases are in the running, and two will be chosen in August.

Located outside of Washington in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed is a 97,000-employee global firm that designs and builds weapons systems for the Pentagon, while the manufacturer also works with NASA on the Orion project that’s exploring Mars.

Lockheed took an interest in Macomb in part because the county’s suppliers secured 3,000 defense contracts totaling more than $1.4 billion last year, with much of that work occurring in the Mound/Van Dyke corridor. County Executive Mark Hackel has labeled Macomb “the defense capital of the Midwest.”

About a decade ago, county officials urged auto parts suppliers to use their advanced technology expertise to pursue contracts in the defense industry. In 2014, with the help of the state, Macomb took steps to make aerospace the next frontier for local manufacturers.

Thursday’s gathering, hosted by the Macomb Community College’s University Center in Clinton Township, was a partnership with the Macomb Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center and Pure Michigan Business Connect. Prior to the networking sessions with Lockheed procurement specialists, speakers at the event included Hackel, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Selfridge base commander Gen. John Slocum.

“Macomb County’s aerospace industry is a growing sector, and the linkage to our supply chain is strong,” said Vicky Rad, deputy director for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development. “This was a wonderful opportunity for us to help connect them to a world-class aerospace leader.”

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