PARIS, France — In addition to Governor Robert Bentley representing the state in meetings this week at the Paris Air Show, a number of Alabama cities and counties sent representation to meet with companies at the show, particularly municipalities with existing aerospace industry businesses that see opportunity to expand.
Of course both Huntsville and Mobile had an active presence with Huntsville’s historic strength in the aviation sector and Mobile’s recent aerospace development win as home to the first U.S. final assembly line for Airbus.
In addition, representatives from cities including Auburn, Opelika, Tuscaloosa, Andalusia, Montgomery and more attended the event. All came with planned meetings and many picked up additional appointments on the ground with an eye toward new development.
“We’re here this week for three reasons,” said Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County about the Huntsville delegation’s trip, “to cultivate business with companies that have expressed an interest in our community, to say thank you to those companies who have a presence in Huntsville, and to talk to new companies who may be interested in establishing facilities in Huntsville.”
Cherry said seven companies discussed plans to add employees during meetings in Paris. The delegation from Huntsville, which was the largest of any Alabama city, had two working groups that each met with approximately 20 companies over three days at the show. “It’s been a very successful event,” Cherry said.
The group from Mobile also reported a successful week at the Paris Air Show. In fact, with construction under way at the Airbus final assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex they said it was their most successful European air show trip to date.
“All one must say is I’m from Mobile,” said Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Michael Saxon. “They know Mobile, Ala. No more do you have to explain where Alabama is on the map.”
Troy Wayman, Vice President of Economic Development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the delegation from Mobile has held several meetings with Airbus, primarily focused on discussions around the $600 million final assembly line that will produce A320 family jetliners beginning in 2015. They have also held several meetings with potential suppliers that might locate in Mobile.
“Last year it was too early to have some of those conversations, and now that the Airbus project is a little further along, this year has been extremely productive,” he said.
Chamber President Bill Sisson, former head of the Mobile Airport Authority, which also has representatives at the air show, said many of the people he has talked to have been impressed by the size of the Alabama delegation.
“They are impressed that so many people are invested in the success of this project and this industry sector in the state,” Sisson said.
Here are reports from a few other communities:
Baldwin County has an obvious stake in the aerospace industry in Alabama as Airbus’s arrival in Mobile will likely mean development across the bay as well.
Baldwin County Commission Chairman Tucker Dorsey, Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood and President of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance Lee Lawson had plans to meet with between 15 and 20 companies over the course of three days at the show.
One of the highlights for Baldwin County was a meeting with United Technologies, the county’s largest industrial employer with 800 employees at a plant in Foley. United Technologies handles Airbus’ engine podding in Hamburg, Germany, and Toulouse, France, and Baldwin County hopes to see the company expand the Foley facility to support the new Airbus final assembly line under construction in Mobile.
In addition, county leaders are eager to recruit additional Airbus suppliers.
“Baldwin County is aggressively pursuing industry,” Dorsey said. “Airbus’ supply chain will need a home in close proximity to Mobile Brookley Aeroplex, and we know the citizens in our communities provide the quality workforce necessary to meet the demands of the aerospace industry. We’re confident that we’ll end up with some tier one suppliers.”
Mayor Haygood said he sees the Airbus development not only as an opportunity for new industry in Baldwin County but also as an opportunity for growth and new homes in his city of Daphne as executives with Airbus and supporting companies look for a place to call home.
Lawson said the Baldwin officials are working in tandem with their Mobile counterparts to maximize economic development opportunities created by Airbus’ arrival. “We are truly marketing ourselves as partners,” he said. “We are not out there stepping on each other’s toes. People sometimes think that in economic development neighbors are bitter rivals, but we’re really working together.”
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange along with representatives from the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce are also working hard in Paris this week, but with a bit of a different focus.
“We are new to this sector,” said Ellen McNair, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at the Chamber. “We’ve been focused on Asian automotive in our community for almost 10 years. When you are new, you start with what you have, which for us is GKN and the Air Force.”
GKN has a composites aerostructure plant with 1,000 employees about 35 miles away in Tallassee, while Montgomery is home to Maxwell Air Force Base. With that as a starting point, McNair said Montgomery has identified several projects that it is going after in the aerospace sector. Many of those companies they have already had conversations with, so this week was an opportunity for face time and follow up.
In addition, McNair said Montgomery has plans to attend the Seoul, Korea, air show in the fall because of the city’s relationship with Korean automaker Hyundai, which employs more than 3,100 people in the Alabama capital. “We met with several Korean aerospace companies this week in Paris to lay the groundwork for that trip,” she said.
Strange, back in Montgomery today after his first Paris Air Show, said he is encouraged about the prospects for aerospace expansion both for his city and for the state. He said the Alabama delegation was well received and heard from senior executives within the industry that Alabama is under consideration for expansion opportunities.
“They know where Alabama is,” he said.
For the City of Auburn, this week’s trip to Paris was less about the number of companies they might get in front of and more about winning over a select few.
Auburn Economic Development Director Phillip Dunlap said he and other officials came to Paris primarily to target a potential supplier for the new GE Aviation plant that opened this year in the city. (Read a story about the advanced manufacturing techniques used at the Auburn plant.)
“That meeting has taken place and we feel very good about it,” Dunlap said Tuesday afternoon. “There’s certainly no guarantee that it will be successful, but if you aren’t here you can’t compete to win.”
Dunlap said development in aerospace is important to Auburn not only because it brings high-paying jobs but also because the city would like to keep engineers being trained at Auburn University in town. GE Aviation cited a partnership with Auburn as one of the reasons it selected the city for its plant.
“Auburn has a major engineering school,” Dunlap said. “It is the biggest engineering school in Alabama, and it offers aerospace engineering. So, this industry is a good match for us.”