Oct 11, 2011 1:00 AM
TUCSON - Folks at Raytheon are celebrating a big birthday this week. The Tucson missile plant is 60 years old.
Aviation pioneer and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes started the Tucson facility in 1951. One of the requirements was that the building could withstand 30 feet of snow.
Taylor Lawrence, Raytheon Missile Systems President, says, "The Hughes' objective was to find a place that was far enough inland that it was away from any threat from kamikaze pilots. And Tucson was actually competing with Colorado Springs and Albuquerque."
In 1997 Raytheon bought Hughes.
Raytheon is the world's largest missile supplier. Lawrence says, "What we do at Raytheon missiles is provide tools and technologies to protect our nation. I'd say that's our fundamental job. National security is our mission."
Still, you probably have Raytheon technology in your home. Lawrence laughs, "When you make your next bag of popcorn thank Raytheon, okay?"
He says, "One of our radar engineers was working on the radar one day and noticed a chocolate bar melting in his pocket. And he was fascinated by that and did some investigation and discovered that particular frequency interacted with water and heated it up. And, boom, that was the basis for the microwave oven."
Raytheon Missile Systems is the largest private employer in Southern Arizona with close to 12,000 employees.
David Welsh, Executive Vice President of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, says, "Historically there's not a more important single private employer to the economy. I don't think you can overstate their permeation through the community both from wages and from subcontracting opportunities for other small businesses."
Arizona State University figures Raytheon's annual economic impact on the state of Arizona is $3 billion.