The one that didn't get away
By Duwayne Escobedo
October 2014
...PENSACOLA, Fla. -- When an aerospace company that’s had an operation in this
region for 23 years decided it needed to expand, it could have looked anywhere. But
it focused on this region, an affirmation of the value of doing business here.
...VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering, previously called ST Aerospace Mobile,
scoured South Mississippi, South Alabama and Northwest Florida to find a location
for an additional facility to repair large aircraft. In the end, it decided on Pensacola.
...The company will have two hangars. It’s a significant increase for the company,
which has ten hangars 60 miles away from Pensacola at the Mobile Aeroplex.
...Scott Luth said Pensacola economic development officials knew VT MAE was
looking and talking to others within a 100-mile radius from its base in Mobile. The
Greater Pensacola Chamber senior vice president of economic development and
others were determined to land the aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO)
company.
...Luth sees VT MAE as the first of many aviation-related companies that will bring
good-paying, high-skilled jobs to Northwest Florida over the next decade.
...“The entire process they were looking at other airports and facilities,” Luth said.
“This is a great success. It definitely helps to go through a couple year selection
process and successfully get the investment and get the commitment. We realize it’s
a long-term strategy and not going to happen over night.”
...VT MAE is a subsidiary of Singapore-based ST Engineering, which reported
revenue of $6.63 billion in 2013. It agreed in September to establish a facility at
Pensacola International Airport Commerce Park after two years of negotiations with
the city.
...The agreement with VT MAE to provide MRO services for commercial airlines and
air freight operators was celebrated Sept. 9 when Pensacola city council members
unanimously approved the 30-year airport lease.
...Sen. Don Gaetz, the Florida Senate President, said it was a “great day” and
attended the event at City Hall in Pensacola. “This may be the biggest day for
economic development cooperation in the history of the city of Pensacola,” he said.
...“Today’s about taking action on our city’s promise and potential,” said Mayor
Ashton Hayward. “This lease not only establishes a partnership with one of the
largest MRO providers in the world, but also gives Pensacola a clear foothold into the
aviation and aerospace industries.”
...VT MAE is expected to create at least 300 jobs when operations at the 18.68-acre
site begin in mid-2016 at facilities capable of housing two wide-body aircraft at once.
The design and layout of those facilities is expected to wrap up at the beginning of
2015 with construction to begin soon after.
...Federal, state and local sources of funding combined to help with the $37.3 million
price of the project. The incentives include $18.6 million from the state, including
$11.6 million from the Florida Department of Transportation and another $7 million
from British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill funds. In addition, Pensacola
chipped in $8 million and another $3.2 million came from an Escambia County sales
tax fund. In exchange, VT MAE pays $243,000 a year in lease fees. Its annual payroll
is expected to average $41,000 per employee and top more than $12 million total, 50
percent more than the city’s incentives share.
...Plus, the aviation company is projected to pump $61.9 million into the local
economy a year, according to the Haas Business Center at the University of West
Florida.
...VT Systems chairman and CEO John G. Coburn, a retired U.S. Army General, cited
Pensacola’s location, infrastructure and leadership as the main reasons that
attracted the company, which has 1,300 workers in a Mobile operation that began in
1991.
..."We have played a pioneering role in the development and growth of the aviation
industry in the Gulf Coast region in the last two decades and have been looking for a
suitable location to expand our presence and service offerings in this region,"
Coburn said. “We look forward to creating greater value for our customers, and hope
to bring many value-added jobs to the people of Pensacola and Escambia County.”
...Now the work begins to establish the aviation infrastructure and technical workforce
VT MAE and other aerospace companies will need, said Brice Harris, West Florida
Office of Economic Development and Engagement associate director.
...The VT MAE project at the airportestablishes the necessary pieces, such as taxi
ways, to open up about 100 acres for further development for other interested
companies.
...“This shows the seriousness of our leadership and support systems to bring such
industry here,” Harris said. “Once critical infrastructure is in place, it becomes
immensely more feasible to expand it.”
...State, local and economic development officials also promised additional dollars to
meet the demands for a skilled aerospace and aviation-related workforce. Plans
include creating an Aircraft Maintenance Training Program at George Stone
Technical Center and money for other new engineering and aircraft courses,
certifications and degrees, such as the airframe and powerplant. Long-range plans
by Pensacola State College call for a $26 million STEM Center located at the main
campus in Pensacola, with labs located across the street at the city’s airport.
...Luth said the “most exciting part” of the VT MAE development is ramping up
training for future employees. Pensacola officials gave VT MAE executives a tour of
NAS Pensacola, the “Cradle of Aviation,” to show the area already has a population
that is knowledgeable about aerospace.
...“We have a lot of workforce development and testing to do to find out what the
needs are and what the gaps are, so we can continue to bring these high-skill jobs to
our area,” Luth said. “All the colleges, school districts and training centers have
stepped up to make sure we have folks that will have the training necessary for jobs
that are going to be created.”
...Harris agreed with Luth that the VT MAE commitment “begins to really establish the
workforce pipeline that’s necessary for this project and future projects.”

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