PARIS – The chairman of The Aerospace Alliance says Alabama and its Gulf Coast neighbors stand to benefit from a growing commercial aviation sector symbolized by the Airbus manufacturing facility that’s about to open in Mobile.
The Alliance is a partnership meant to foster cooperation between four Southeastern states that have targeted expansion and growth opportunities in aerospace. The group sponsored a Sunday networking cruise on the Seine that was heavily attended by industry executives and economic developers from alliance states.
On the eve of the Paris Air Show’s opening ceremonies, Chairman Neal Wade, a veteran recruiter who now serves as the director of the University of Alabama’s Economic Development Academy, said the Gulf Coast region is poised for aerospace growth because of its already robust capabilities.
“The four states – Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida – comprise the fourth largest aerospace corridor in the world, so we really come at this from a position of strength,” Wade said during the cruise. “Every major aerospace company is in one of those states, or more than one of them.”
He added: “We’re going to continue to grow – there is no question about that, because the aerospace industry is going to continue to grow, especially on the commercial side as Airbus comes on line.”
Airbus is expected to launch assembly at its $600 million Alabama plant in coming weeks. The facility will produce A320 family aircraft at a rate of about four per month, with employment rising to 1,000 at full production.
The Alliance has sponsored receptions at the major European air shows – Paris alternates every year with the Farnborough International Airshow in the U.K. – for a number of years. Wade said the cruises offer a chance for executives from companies big and small to connect with officials from communities and organizations throughout the Alliance region.
“We have used the Alliance as a platform to bring people together like we are doing at the cruise today, where we have hundreds of aerospace executives and 70 CEOs. You have really strong people on this boat,” he said Sunday. “And then you have the economic developers, 25 from each state who can work with them. I know there are people here with smaller companies trying to get business with larger companies.
“One of the things that made me feel so good last year in London was when we heard people say, ‘We did business on that cruise.’ That’s what it’s all about. Each year, it’s grown, and the platform has gotten bigger because people can come here knowing, ‘I can get some business done.’
Quincy Minor, president of Wetumpka-based ITS, was one of the many businessmen on Sunday’s cruise looking to make contacts. His company provides technology networking solutions for schools and other buildings, and aims to expand into the aerospace sector. It has done business with Airbus in Mobile and GKN Aerospace in Tallassee.
“We’ve met with a few people, and we’re going to talk to them again,” Minor said during the cruise.
Wade said the Alliance reflects an approach of cooperative competition between the states, which fiercely contest many economic development projects across many different industries.
“We decided to take that theory of ‘coopertition,’ where if we worked across state lines together to bring in more activity, then we were all going to be able to share the pie and have more companies and jobs coming in,” Wade said. “I am one of those who believes that if you can figure out a way to work across county lines, across state lines, you’re going to get more business by cooperating than by putting up walls.”
He added: “We see nothing right now but potential for growth, and that potential is different for each one of the states. They all have different strengths they bring to the table. If we can just find a way to get more companies looking here, then they will come here.”
Wade has a long history in Alabama economic development. He headed both the Alabama Development Office (now known as the Alabama Department of Commerce) and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.