|Boeing operations special for region
Boeing 100 years ago supplied planes for fledgling Navy fliers, and today its
Northwest Florida operation is expanding its role of keeping U.S. warplanes the most
up-to-date in the world...
By Tom McLaughlin
FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. -- The Boeing name resonates in the world of
business. The largest aerospace company is a huge player in the commercial
aircraft, defense and space industries, and its presence in a community is a magnet
that says a lot about the tech-savvy nature of an area.
For 20 years now, Boeing has been a part of the Panhandle’s Fort Walton Beach. It’s
one of four locations in the state that Boeing considers a hub for its Florida workforce
And its footprint here is growing.
In addition to the Boeing SOF building at Fort Walton Beach Commerce and
Technology Park, the company recently opened the nearby 83,000-square-foot
Boeing Aircraft Modernization and Sustainment Facility.
“Boeing is a name that is synonymous with excellence, and with Boeing choosing to
expand its Fort Walton Beach footprint, it certainly speaks volumes about our
community’s ability to accommodate a company of this caliber,” said Nathan Sparks,
the executive director of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council.
“The addition of more highly skilled, high-wage jobs to our local economy is the direct
benefit, and one that we greatly appreciate, but the vote of confidence from a
company viewed by many as the gold standard of the global aerospace sector is
especially noteworthy,” Sparks said.
Boeing came to Fort Walton Beach two decades ago, drawn to the area by Eglin Air
Force Base, a huge base where conventional airborne weapons are developed and
tested, and Hurlburt Field, home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command.
The Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin metro area has a high concentration of
scientists and technicians involved in defense-oriented research, development, test
and evaluation. Indeed, its concentration of avionics technicians alone is nine times
the national norm.1 It has a healthy supply of Air Force and Navy retirees to offer as
The Boeing Special Operations Forces organization has been here since the mid-
90s and is a major anchor of the tech park. The skilled workers there focus on the
multiple, specialized aircraft used by the highly active Special Operations forces.
Over the years the Boeing unit has secured millions in government contracts to do
work at Eglin, Hurlburt Field and other locations. It’s this work with Special Forces that
inspired Boeing recently to expand operations in Fort Walton Beach a second
Boeing announced on July 1 that it had purchased the Edwin Watts Golf warehouse
at 20 Hill Drive and turned it into an aircraft modernization and sustainment facility.
The primary mission at the new building, like the older location, is keeping the aircraft
flying out of Hurlburt, the AC-130U and the CV-22 Osprey, functioning at peak
capacity, according to Hank Sanders, Boeing’s director of Special Operations Forces
The big sustainment job at the new location is repairing and constructing wiring that
runs through aircraft, Sanders said. But with the additional room available at the new
facility, Boeing has plans to do other things.
Sanders said that hydraulic repairs on the weapons (guns) that are employed by the
AC-130 gunships, as well as the landing gears for the F-15 fighter, will be
undertaken at the new facility.
He said the Hill Drive location will house a Technical Capability Center at which
technical manuals will be developed for Boeing and non-Boeing systems. Boeing
puts together technical manuals for nine aircraft, including the C-130, F-15, QF-16,
Italy’s KC-767, and the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD).
While Sanders said the work Boeing does is funded primarily by existing government
contracts, the company is “constantly planning for growth.” The building on Hill Drive
will employ engineers and technicians and house laboratories and an expanded
repair center, but there should be blue collar job opportunities as well. The former
home of Edwin Watts will afford Boeing critical warehouse space.
Sanders said parts for F-15s and AC-130s flown by the U.S. and its allies across the
globe will be stored in Fort Walton Beach.
“We will provide warehouse space for all activities Boeing supports in this area,”
Statewide, Sanders said, Boeing does over $1 billion in business annually, primarily
at locations in Fort Walton Beach, Titusville, Jacksonville and near the Kennedy
“We as a community could not ask for a better community leader to be one of our
most famous businesses,” said Ted Corcoran, president of the Greater Fort Walton
Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Along with its business footprint, Boeing serves as one of Northwest Florida’s
Sanders said the company contributes millions annually to support education and the
environment and offered as an example a recent excursion by over 100 company
volunteers to a beach in nearby Destin, where the group collaborated to clean up
four miles of beach.
“Boeing is a very unique business in our community,” Corcoran said. “They go about
their business very quietly. Most of our residents and visitors are not their customer,
and probably don’t even know they are here.
“But they always commit much time and energy investing in our community. As a
company they are sponsors of many worthwhile endeavors, and their employees
participate on most of the major fundraisers in the community,” Corcoran said. “They
simply go about their business, employing hundreds of our friends and neighbors,
yet ask nothing in the process.”
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1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014.
Strong ties to Florida
It was nearly 100 years ago that Boeing and Florida struck up a relationship. In 1917
two new seaplanes built by fledgling Boeing were shipped by rail to the equally new
air station at a Navy base in Pensacola. The Navy liked the Boeing Model C and
bought 50 more to train pilots.
Today the ties between Boeing and Florida are deep, with some 1,400 Boeing
workers doing a range of jobs, from repairing Navy F-18s to building a new
generation of spacecraft and training commercial pilots.
The company, founded in 1916 in Seattle, is the world’s largest aerospace company,
second-largest defense contractor and largest exporter in the United States by dollar
It builds commercial jetliners, military aircraft, satellites and missile defense systems.
It also provides airplane financing and leasing services to both commercial and
military customers. It’s No. 30 in the Fortune 500, with annual revenues of $90.76
Its most high profile activity in Florida is at Kennedy Space Center, where it’s building
the Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) system at the former Orbital Processing
Facility No. 3 (OPF-3). The site is also headquarters for Boeing’s Commercial Crew
Program. - David Tortorano