Alabama is a state with a rich history in aerospace and defense, going back more than a century. The Wright Brothers may have taken their first flight on the beaches of North Carolina, but it was in Montgomery back in 1910 where the aviation pioneers established the nation’s first civilian fight school. Alabama has provided a steady launch pad for companies and organizations involved in flight ever since.

Today, the Yellow Hammer State is home to more than 300 companies, including industry giants such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation, Raytheon, and GKN Aerospace. The aerospace sector accounts for 12,500 jobs in the state, which ranks among the top five states for aerospace engineers.

Alabama also has a strong military aerospace and aviation presence, as Fort Rucker serves as the training center for U.S. Army helicopter pilots. In addition, the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville is a major research, engineering, and test center that houses the Army’s critical missile defense and aviation programs. The Arsenal is also home to the Marshall Space Flight Center, one of NASA’s largest and most historic facilities.

The Heart of Dixie accounted for 2.2% of the national aerospace and defense workforce, with 53,470 jobs in total supported by the industry, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. This included 22,750 direct employment jobs as well as another 30,710 supply chain positions. The five year period from 2012-2017 saw 10.3% employment growth and the average wage of aerospace and defense employees in Alabama was $74,058.


According to the 2018 ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey results, total compensation for all surveyed security-cleared professionals worldwide is $93,004, while total compensation for those security-cleared professionals in Alabama was $86,324. Though this is lower than other states’ cleared salaries, it is still significantly higher than those for aerospace and defense employees on the whole.

The mean base pay and median total compensation have each increased more than 7% in 2018, while the median total compensation rose over 8%.

Top Secret/SCI mean base pay and mean total compensation each rose by 13% this year, while the mean base pay of management professionals increased by 16% and the mean base pay of mid-level career professionals increased by 13%. As we saw across the board, polygraph status is also a big indicator of cleared salaries.

Hunting for Talent in Huntsville and Beyond

BAE Systems recently announced a $45.5 Million expansion at its operations in Huntsville, which is part of a multi-phase plan that will include immediate expansion of its offices at Discovery Drive in Huntsville and the development of a state-of-the-art manufacturing and office space facility in the Cummings Research Park.

“BAE Systems’ decision to carry out this significant expansion project in Huntsville is a powerful testament to the expertise that makes Alabama’s ‘Rocket City’ an aerospace hub,” said Governor Kay Ivey in a statement. “It’s great to see a world-class company like BAE Systems expand its presence – and create good jobs – in Alabama, where aerospace is continuing to take off.”

Neighboring Morgan County, which has a strong diversified industrial base, also has several companies that have announced hiring plans. These include Dynetics Inc., which announced plans to construct a three-building complex in Decatur to support  the development and testing of large rocket components; United Launch Alliance is also investing $115.6 million in work on its next-generation launch vehicle. Morgan County continues to play a key role in the state’s aerospace industry, with more than $336 Million in investments in new facilities and expansion projects that began in 2017.

Like the rest of the nation, alabama is struggling to find cleared employees

However, the challenge now is to fill the new openings that all this expansion in Huntsville and Morgan County has created. Kari Van Curen, senior director of talent acquisition at BAE Systems told ClearanceJobs that it is a market that has a lot of opportunity for employees, but lacks a vast pool of talent now.

“This is the tightest job market we’ve seen since the dotcom bubble 20 years ago,” she added. “Companies are looking to see if they can relocate people to the state, and we believe Huntsville has a lot to offer. It has good schools and is a great place to live.”

Even by looking beyond the state there are challenges.

“There is a general belief if you are looking for cleared workers the unemployment rate is close to zero,” said Van Curen. “Of course what makes this tighter is the clearance process, which it needs to be as we’re trusting people with sensitive information. But this is not a patient job market and unfortunately we’re seeing that many candidates don’t want to wait week or months for their clearance to cross over to a new employer.”

The demand in the tech sector could also be luring some candidates away.

“There are a lot of opportunities with cyber security and IT,” Van Curen told ClearanceJobs. “A lot of people may be opting not to remain in the clearance process, so that is tightening the market for government contractors even more.”


This article is one in a series based on the 2018 ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey. This survey was administered online between October 30, 2017 and February 9, 2018. Participants had to have a current, active federal security clearance and be currently employed to be included in the results, which included 20,883 usable responses.

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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