Minnesota's Thin Slice of the Military Pie

Last month, a flatbed truck left the three-million-square-foot BAE Systems facility in Fridley and traveled east, its covered cargo destined for a birthday party 1,000 miles away on the National Mall. It was the Army's 233rd birthday, and the cargo was a prototype component for the Army's $160-billion Future Combat Systems program.

The BAE weapon is known as the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, a brutal hulk of a machine with a revolutionary innovation: It's fully automatic, capable of firing six 150mm rounds per minute. Every cannon that came before it required soldiers to load each round by hand. Just two soldiers can operate the prototype (compared to four or five previously), and they never have to touch a round of ammunition.

As the BAE cannon shows, Minnesota certainly makes its contributions to national defense, but it is hardly considered a major player. Minnesota ranks in the bottom third of all states in defense allocations. Though several of the 'big eight' national defense contractors have operations here, they see only a small fraction of the hundreds of billions tossed from Pentagon coffers each year.

For example, BAE Systems, the sixth-largest aerospace and defense company in the U.S., did $4.3 billion in defense contract work nationwide in 2006, but its Minnesota operation accounted for just $150 million of that.

Lockheed Martin, the country's largest defense contractor, did $27 billion in Pentagon business in 2007, but just $277 million of that in Minnesota.

What accounts for Minnesota's poor showing in winning defense contracts?

Blame geography. The top 10 states are all close to an ocean or in spitting distance of Washington, D.C.: California, Virginia, Texas, and Florida among them.

With no major military bases and two first-term senators, the state has little leverage in securing major defense work.

But the director of the Defense Alliance of Minnesota, Chip Laingen, sees another, less obvious explanation for Minnesota's small share of the annual defense windfall. "This is a really liberal place—it's a blue state," he says. "And there is evidence that people don't like to talk about this stuff up here. There are companies that do things for defense but don't want to talk about it. Look at Alliant Tech—the world's largest munitions manufacturer. They have protestors outside their gate every week."

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