|Avalex innovator in key security field
By David Tortorano
...It’s a company any area interested in high-paying jobs and sustainable growth
would love to have. It employs well-paid engineers and technicians working on critical
cutting-edge technologies in a multibillion-dollar field that’s growing.
...Avalex Technologies is housed in a multi-story glass façade building that looks like
something from Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park transplanted in an area with
residential neighborhoods, small businesses and strip malls. And who knows; it may
one day be the core business of a modest-sized high-tech park.
...Avalex is involved in one of today’s hottest technology fields: intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR. It develops, designs and produces airborne
and ground-based surveillance equipment for military and law enforcement
...ISR has become a pervasive part of today’s information dominated world.
Companies in the sector provide the unblinking eyes, unwavering memory and
analytical capability that help the military and law enforcement achieve “situational
awareness.” The airborne ISR market alone will grow in the next decade, from the
current $20 billion to $28 billion. And Avalex Technologies is a growing part of the
...Founded 22 years ago in Atlanta, Avalex moved to Pensacola in 2001 then to
nearby Gulf Breeze in 2011. Its growth has been noticed. It was in the INC 5000 list of
fastest growing companies for four years.
...“We’ve had this organic growth,” said Avalex president and founder, Tad Ihns, who
was raised in Pensacola and got a degree in system sciences in 1982 from the
University of West Florida (UWF). “When we came here in ’01, I came here with four
...Today it has 60.
...Avalex develops, designs and manufactures products in a 53,000 square-foot
building that once housed a Ford dealership. It has equipment that allows it to make
virtually everything it needs from a range of materials, including aluminum, copper,
steel, stainless steel and a variety of engineering plastics. It also has a 3D printer
that it uses for modeling.
...Avalex has seven product lines: displays, smart multi-function displays, mission
computers, cockpit management systems, digital video recorders, digital mapping
systems, and video routing systems. With all the iterations and various other parts,
the number of products is substantial.
...“We probably make more than 250 different products,” said Ihns. The company
even makes its own circuit boards and is experimenting with a board with bending
circuits to handle higher speeds of data transmission.
...Most of its custom-made mission avionics products are used by government
entities in the United States.
...“We sell domestically to everyone from the California Highway Patrol to Texas
Department of Public Safety to Tampa Police. On the federal level we sell to the DEA,
to the FBI and to Customs and Border Protection,” Ihns said. That includes direct
sales as well as sales to prime contractors.
...“We sell to the Air Force and to the Army and to the Navy, some to the Marine
Corps, but the Army and the Air Force are the primary groups that we sell to,” said
...There are several Avalex displays on each CV-22, and the AC-130s, HH-60
Pavehawks and other Air Force aircraft all have products from Avalex. There are also
multiple systems on the Navy P-3s aircraft.
...While domestic sales are the largest, the foreign customer base is growing. Avalex
has sold internationally for 15 years, and today foreign sales account for 15 percent
of its business. But the number is going up now that Avalex has a sales office in
Swindon, an hour west of London’s Healthrow Airport, to service Europe, the Middle
East and Africa customers.
...The sales office is able to convince customers that Avalex will be able to provide
support. Ihns said that makes a difference, and he thinks it will have a dramatic
impact on foreign sales.
...“I see it increasing significantly.”
...Indeed, during a reporter’s visit to Avalex, work was being done on an airborne
surveillance system for law enforcement in the United Kingdom.
...Avalex has grown substantially since moving from Georgia to Florida, prompting the
company to look for room to grow. It found what it needed east of Gulf Breeze proper.
“It’s a fabulous location,” Ihns said, praising Santa Rosa County for being “nothing
but wonderful.” He said Shannon Ogletree, head of the county’s economic
development, has been a big help every step of the way.
...About a third of the workers at Avalex Technologies are software, mechanical and
electrical engineers, while a third are production workers and the remainder are
support. Generally, engineers move to the area from other locations, Ihns said.
“Typically most people are from outside although we had two recent hires from UWF
for software engineers,” said Ihns.
...Because of the area’s growing need for engineers and technicians, Avalex joined
with other technology companies three years ago and formed Innovation Coast.
“We started that to raise the profile of technology companies in the local area, to try
to address the recruiting challenge. Because most people think of the area as being
oriented towards tourism, healthcare, military primarily,” Ihns said. He points out that
Atlanta, Charlotte, Austin and other cities have grown because of the health of their
technology based sectors.
...“The communities have invested heavily to make sure those segments grow,
because those bring in a lot of good paying jobs, start spinoffs … we have to try to
form the critical mass in this area to do that,” he said.
...Ihns said that over the three years of Innovation Coast’s existence, it’s made
tremendous progress. In November, Innovation Coast had a competition for startup
company business plans. With funding provided by Space Florida, the state’s
aerospace economic development organization, $100,000 was awarded to IRIS, a
local startup that developed an eye scan for early detection of diseases.
...One of the more intriguing ideas for the Avalex site is the possibility of a larger
technology campus, with Avalex as the core. The site is 9.5 acres, and there’s room
for a 40,000 square foot building to the east and an 80,000 square foot building to
...The Avalex building itself also has some 7,000 square feet of unused Class A office
space that was once a dealership showroom. One aerospace operation looked, and
a biotech group even wrote up a floor plan, but the deal never reached fruition. Ihns
said it would be perfect for professional, biotech, attorneys, or engineers. And while
the Avalex site doesn’t have runway access that could be beneficial for an aerospace
company, helicopters have used the back lot of the building.
...All this is occurring at time when the Gulf Coast I-10 region is pushing to lure more
aerospace and aviation activities. In Santa Rosa County, two parks that target
aviation received certification under Gulf Power’s “Florida First Sites” program. One
of them, Santa Rosa Industrial Park in Milton, will be the new home for Aerosync
Support, which specializes in helicopter repair, modifications and upgrades. The
company, which also has operations in Kansas and Colombia, said in January that it’
s investing $1.75 million and will have 25 employees.
...In nearby Pensacola, Singapore-owned ST Mobile Aerospace is establish a new
300-employee maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Pensacola International
Airport. That company also has a 1,000-worker MRO in Mobile, Ala., not far from
where aerospace giant Airbus is building a $600 million, 1,000-worker A320 jetliner
final assembly line that opens in the fall of this year.
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