For the Bay County Economic Development Alliance, the effort to lure aerospace manufacturing projects to Northwest Florida is a marathon, not a sprint.
“One of the things we have to recognize in economic development is that you don’t just run over and go get a project,” said EDA Director Neal Wade. “You’ve got to plant the seeds, you’ve got to go water them, you’ve got to cultivate them, you’ve got to stay with them and keep doing that.”
At this point, he said it’s not about winning the project, but rather getting in the game.
To keep the momentum going, four officials from the region recently attended the Berlin Air Show in Germany, where they met with more than 20 aerospace industry representatives to discuss expansion potential in Northwest Florida.
The trip was a follow-up to a recent mission to Hamburg, Germany, where 35 economic development leaders from Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties attended an international aerospace forum and also toured the assembly site for the Airbus A320 aircraft.
With an assembly plant for major aircraft producer Airbus slated to open in Mobile next year, Wade said the potential for suppliers from Europe to expand in Mississippi, Alabama or Northwest Florida is great.
“Our goal is to identify who they are and know who the suppliers are,” Wade said. “We’ve been trying to meet with them and build a relationship so that when they’re ready to make an expansion, they’ll put us in the mix.
The Mobile plant is expected to hire about 300 employees to begin and eventually create upwards of 1,000 jobs.
Gulf Power economic development representative Jennifer Conoley, who also attended the Berlin Air Show, said that although the Berlin Air Show was a relatively small event, the group maximized their time by setting appointments with dozens of industry leaders.
“I think that was key in making the show a really great success because 20 appointments over only a three-day period is pretty great,” Conoley said, adding that traffic from the coalition’s booth was heavy throughout the show. “We maximized all of our opportunities.”
Conoley said the group continues to push forward, with plans to attend the Farnborough International Airshow outside of London in July and the National Business Aviation Association’s annual conference in Orlando this fall.
Although it would make more sense for companies that supply strictly Airbus to locate closer to Mobile, Wade said the area’s proximity to other major aircraft suppliers, like Embraer in Jacksonville and Melbourne, Boeing in Charleston, S.C., and Gulfstream in Savannah, Ga., gives Northwest Florida a leg-up.
“We’re going after suppliers that supply Boeing, Airbus, Gulfstream, Embraer … that puts us in the middle, so that gives us a bit of an advantage from the standpoint of going after companies that are multiple suppliers,” Wade said. “I really think if you stack up workforce and incentives and sites, we can compete with anybody.”