PANAMA CITY — As officials with the Bay County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) target the aerospace industry for local job growth, the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) remains at the center of their pitch.
With the airport positioned as one of the area’s most valuable forces for attracting new industry, the EDA heard an update from its executive director, Parker McClellan, at a meeting Wednesday on business development, passenger traffic and military and general aviation activity at ECP.
“Every day, we work with (the EDA) to develop the opportunities in Bay County, especially out at the airport,” McClellan said. “The meetings we’ve had have been very successful, the site visits and other economic development opportunities.”
He cited the expansion of Edge Aerodynamix as one of those successes. The company announced plans to expand and create 120 new jobs in Bay County last year, utilizing a site at the airport to test and manufacture a new conformal vortex generator (CVG) technology product, which helps reduce drag on aircraft wings to increase fuel efficiency.
McClellan expects to have the required permits from the Federal Aviation Administration in hand for the company to move forward by the end of September.
“The opportunity that Edge is giving the airport and the community is huge,” McClellan said. “The jobs could grow exponentially depending on the success of these efforts.”
McClellan also reviewed recent increases in passenger traffic thanks at least in part to the addition of two new airlines and new flight destinations this spring. Since the airport opened, it has increased its market share in the Panhandle region from 9 percent to between 22 and 25 percent, depending on the season.“The [passenger] numbers for May … look really good,” he said, adding that higher fare rates is a positive indicator for flight demand. “The fact that we don’t have many sales is great for our community. It’s a negative perception, but it’s a positive result.”
The EDA’s monthly project update also centered on aerospace, as agency president Becca Hardin reviewed nine ongoing projects and four new project leads, many in the aerospace industry.
One new aerospace project has the potential to create 500 new jobs, and officials are working to set up a visit with company representatives.
“A lot of emphasis is still on aviation,” said Hardin, who will be traveling to France this weekend for the Paris Air Show alongside Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other economic development officials from across the state.
Hardin said Bay EDA already has several meetings set up with major aerospace companies from around the world.
“It’s the show to go to in the aviation world,” she said. “We’re going to have tons of visibility for Bay County.”