|Pensacola's 350-acre lure
By Duwayne Escobedo
...Forgive Greg Donovan if he’s a bit enthusiastic. But consider this: he’s the director
of the second busiest airports in the region; Airbus is building an assembly line 60
miles away; the U.S. has become a more cost-effective site for manufacturers and his
airport has 350 acres, much of it adjacent to runways and taxiways, that can be put
on the table.
...And now that the Pensacola City Council on July 18 approved the land use plan, all
systems are go for attracting aviation companies big and small to the airport.
...Donovan says the move comes just in the nick of time with Airbus developing its
$600 million campus at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala., less than an hour’s drive to
the west. The plant will come online in 2015, with the first A320 assembled in 2016. It
will have about 1,000 workers when it reaches full production in 2018.
...Discussions have already begun with Pensacola area colleges to look at future
workforce needs, Airbus and non-Airbus alike. He pictures large hangars and
commercial- and military-sized aircraft at the airport.
...“Something this big has really not been seen before in our region,” Donovan says.
“This will benefit Pensacola, Northwest Florida and the whole Gulf Coast corridor.”
...Donovan knows something about making airports development alluring. He was
chief of Okaloosa County’s airports when Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview become an
aviation draw. And Pensacola?
...“We are not really known to the outside world. People really do not have an
appreciation of how much property exists here for development. It is really exciting to
see how much we have to work with. Timing wise, we couldn’t ask for a better
scenario with all the hard work Alabama and the Gulf Coast region has done for
Airbus. We can complement that,” Donovan says.
...There are 191 acres set aside specifically for aviation development along the
airport’s newly refurbished runways and taxiways.
...The airport is on track to complete its Gulf Power Industrial Site Evaluation and
Certification Program in the next six months, about to launch its first ever marketing
campaign, and is ready to attend its first trade show, the National Business Aviation
Association National Convention. The tradeshow at the Las Vegas Convention
Center in late October is expected to attract 25,000 attendees, including key
operators and industry leaders.
...Pensacola airport advantages include Foreign Trade Zone status; proximity to
Interstate 10, rail and the Port of Pensacola; an FAA air traffic control tower open
24/7; and land that requires no environmental remediation.
...Economic development officials want to make sure only aerospace operations that
must be at an airport locate there. Others could opt to another deal being worked
locally: the acquisition of 640 acres from the Navy for a commerce park north of the
city in a land swap expected to cost $25 million.
...Greater Pensacola Chamber’s lead economic officer, Scott Luth, says he believes
a major operation will begin within 18 months, and he thinks the airport will be
jumping with activity in five years. The self-supporting airport already has a $550
million annual impact and Luth says it will become an even greater asset to the
...“This is an exciting time to be working in economic development, especially in the
aviation industry,” he says.