This op-ed from U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Sunday, April 14, 2019.

With international business giants Boeing, Dassault Falcon Jet, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Spirit AeroSystems, Textron and others, it’s no wonder the U.S. is the world’s largest aerospace and defense exporter. Each year, more than 2.4 million American workers help design, manufacture and service A&D products—from military aircraft to complex space systems—for a combined $865 billion annual economic impact. Importantly, the aerospace and defense sector is contributing to this economic benefit all with a positive trade balance of $8.6 billion. Every day, these numbers are increasing. With the right agenda in place, there are even more opportunities for our nation’s aerospace and defense industries to lift off in 2019, particularly in the heartland.

Around the globe, the South and Midwest are already recognized as hotbeds for aerospace and defense innovation and growth. Take states like Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma as an example. According to the Aerospace Industries Association, in our four-state region alone, these industries are responsible for nearly $6.5 billion in exports and more than 200,000 good-paying jobs. Combined with state sales revenue and taxes, this accounts for nearly $22 billion in added value to the regional economy, and these industries are expanding here.

So how can we harness our positive momentum and ensure our region continues to be a desirable place for aerospace and defense companies to land? We must first capitalize on our strengths and share industry insights. Our states should regularly convene at regional forums like the Mid-America Aerospace and Defense Summit, scheduled for April 23-25 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to chart our course forward and adjust our tactics accordingly. With first-hand input from industry leaders and others in the field, we can determine how to best tout our states’ low operating costs, convenient locations, ready workforce and affordable costs of living to recruit more successful businesses and skilled aerospace and defense workers.

As federal officials, we are focused on supporting our states as they lay the foundation for success — both in our aerospace and defense industries, as well as the region’s economy as a whole. As any state knows, an educated, highly skilled workforce is critical to attracting world-class companies. That’s why our states are expanding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) funding and opportunities, as well as career and technical education (CTE) programs for students at state educational institutions. Through the implementation of pro-growth tax codes, we are helping provide small and large business owners alike with the financial certainty they need to invest in new workers, infrastructure or equipment. As we’ve done in the past, we must also streamline burdensome regulations that can hinder job creation and growth across the country. With free trade agreements, we can better help companies access and expand in global markets. And, as a Congress, we can provide regular funding through the federal appropriations process to ensure our region’s aerospace and defense industries have the resources needed to grow and flourish.

By seizing every opportunity for takeoff — on the local, state and federal levels — we can help enhance the heartland’s and, in turn, our nation’s competitiveness in the aerospace and defense industries on an international scale.

Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) are U.S. Senators for Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, respectively.