In an ideal world people would choose where to live based on preferences of weather, proximity to cultural attractions or other interests and even for scenic beauty. Unfortunately, many people instead must choose to go where the jobs are. Fortunately for those with security clearance there is great diversity in centers of employment, and other perks, as well.

The good news is there really isn’t a shortage of jobs. According to a January 2016 study commissioned by the Aerospace Industries Association and produced by IHS the U.S. aerospace and defense industry supported 1.7 million jobs within businesses producing end-user goods and services within the industry’s supply chain, with about 511,000 jobs directly related to defense and national security – e.g. military aircraft, ground and sea systems, armaments and space systems. Produced labor income in this market segment is approximately 44 percent above the national average or about $93,000 for average labor income. This reflects the highly skill nature of the workforce. has broken down the top states for security clearance jobs, and we’ve now rounded up a list of the top individual metro markets around the country – offering insight on what makes these markets stand out.

Washington D.C./Beltway

During the Roman Empire it was said all roads led to the eternal city. Washington D.C. maybe modeled on Rome’s architecture, while our structure of government is modeled on the democratic systems of ancient Greece and Rome, as well. More importantly, D.C. remains the political epicenter of the United States. The offices of the CIA and Pentagon are just outside the city proper, and many defense contractors have offices near Washington.

“This city hires on the high end for experience and pay,” said Wayne Plucker, industry manager for aerospace and defense at Frost & Sullivan. “It is always a good place to be if you have clearance and are looking to move up the food chain in the intelligence world.”

Norfolk, Virginia

Beyond the CIA and Pentagon – which are located in the ‘burbs of D.C., there is Norfolk. According to a report published by the Virginia Employment Commission the U.S. Department of Defense remains the number one employer for this ocean side city, which is home to Naval Station Norfolk.

“Government services are a huge part of the Virginia economy,” said Zachary Fryer-Biggs of IHS Jane’s Defence Industry. “Military and intelligence is a huge part of that, and the Norfolk area has a huge source of jobs for someone who has clearance.”

Defense contractors in Norfolk include Map Contracting Corp, Honeywell and Northrop Grumman.

Dayton, Ohio

The sixth largest city in Ohio has seen a decline in heavy manufacturing but a major uptick in research and development in aeronautical and astronautical engineering related to its proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Today two major U.S. Research and development organizations – the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) – are located on the base, which remains one of the largest air base wings in the United States Air Force.

“There may not be as many ‘dynamics’ in the way of new programs, but there is a continuing stream of opportunities as we put new platforms in the air,” said Plucker. “Wright-Patterson has the Air Force research facility, so anyone with an interest in aeronautical research should consider moving to Dayton.”

Defense contractors in Dayton include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Goodrich Corp. (

Denver/Colorado Springs

For those who like the great outdoors you really can’t beat Denver/Colorado Springs, which provides year round activities from skiing to cycling to hiking and more. For those in the defense sector this area is home to both Army and Air Force bases, and is also home to the Lockheed Martin Commercial Space headquarters. A large segment of the defense sector jobs in the Denver/Colorado Springs area are dedicated to the development of projects related to missile defense.

“This area is home to the United States Air Force Academy as well,” noted Plucker. “The defense industry plays a major role in the Colorado Springs economy.”

Defense contractors in Denver/Colorado Springs include Boeing, General Dynamics, Harris Corporation, SAIC, ITT, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.


Dubbed the “New York of the South,” “Chicago of the South” and even “Hollywood of the South,” Atlanta or “The A” could soon be rebranded as the defense industry capital of the south and beyond. It is in close proximity to Robins Air Force Base and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center.

Defense contractors in Atlanta include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE Systems, United Technologies (Pratt & Whitney), L-3 Communications and SAIC. In addition Heckler & Koch, Glock and Daniel Defense have facilities near Atlanta.

Fort Worth

With 15 active military bases Texas is home to 170,000 military personal along with another 130,000 aerospace workers, and the average annual salary for select workers is $95,414. While Houston is home to NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center – itself a hub for the world’s operations in outer space – the epicenter for defense industry growth in the Lone Star State is Forth Worth.

The top employer in the fifth largest city in Texas is Lockheed Martin followed by the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. Last year Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.1 billion contract to supply the U.S. military with missiles for its national air defense system.

“Lockheed Martin is helping drive Texas to be a major player in defense contractor jobs,” said Fryer-Biggs.

St. Louis

“The Gateway to the West” is emerging as an important center for aerospace and defense contractor jobs. Currently Boeing Defense, Space & Security with 15,000 employees is the third largest employer in St. Louis. Other firms include DRS Sustainment Systems and ammunition maker Olin Corp.

“Boeing is still a player in defense,” said Plucker, “and their operations in St. Louis still draw in a number of support personnel.”

Huntsville, Alabama

Until the outbreak of World War II, Huntsville was a small town of just about 13,000 inhabitants. In 1941 land near the city was selected by the U.S. Army for the building of three chemical munitions facilities and the city has been on the defense contractor map ever since. The city has since earned the nicknamed “The Rocket City,” and while the Space Shuttle program has ended Huntsville still plays a key role in NASA-related activities.

The city is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center and is the HQ for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM).

“You still need to get assets up there,” explained Fryer-Biggs. “Huntsville remains a crucial center for rocket and missile development.

A total of 57 Fortune 500 companies have operations in Huntsville, and its main economic influence is derived from aerospace and military technology.

Melbourne, Florida

Along with Huntsville, Melbourne is another city that plays a crucial role in America’s space program. Among its top employers are the Harris Corporation, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins and Ares Defense. It could see its importance in aerospace go sky high even as the military downsizes.

“It is home to centers for simulation and training,” said Plucker. “If we need to do more with less we need to use more simulators to keep people up to speed and that is going to happen in Melbourne.”


“This is one of those techie/geeky places,” said Plucker. “Defense contracts are starting to invest in cities like Austin as the Department of Defense looks at new tech and new ways to do more with less. That makes this along with Silicon Valley (see below), one of the potential highest growth area for contractor jobs in the near future.”

Keep Austin Weird might be this city’s unofficial motto and it is certainly a more relaxed town than the rest of Texas, but the city is a major center for high tech. The University of Texas already provides a regular and steady stream of employees to help support the industry along with defense industry jobs.

Defense contractors in Austin include Ultra Electronics Advanced Tactical Systems and Novati.

Best Cities for Defense: Honorable Mentions

Here are a few more cities/regions worth considering.

Silicon Valley

Google, Apple and Facebook don’t spring to mind for defense or intelligence related jobs, but the military and intelligence community continues to look for the next big thing. 

San Diego

“It has a significant military presence,” said Fryer-Biggs. “This provides a market for services to support bases and personnel but not as much is being built there as other locations.”


Raytheon Missile Systems (formerly Hughes Aircraft Co.), Honeywell Aerospace and Bombardier Aerospace – among other tech firms – have operations in or near Tucson, while around 150 Tucson companies are involved in the design and manufacture of optics.

“It is a great place if you are interested in missiles, as several firms have research facilities near Tucson,” said Plucker.


The “Arsenal of Democracy” might be a shell of its former self, but Detroit is still home to the Big Three automakers. “It is less dynamic today as we aren’t doing a lot in the vehicle world,” said Plucker.

But don’t count Detroit out. The city proper is on the rebound and if and when vehicles are needed the skilled workforce is ready to step up – making for opportunities for support and R&D opportunities.

Bath, Maine

“It is home to the Bath Iron Works, which is part of General Dynamics and is one of Maine’s largest employers,” said Fryer-Biggs. “This is one of those one-company towns, but an important one at that.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at