PARIS – Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield addressed a group of aerospace entrepreneurs, community leaders, economic development specialists and university representatives at a breakfast event this morning that kicked off the Alabama Paris Air Show marketing and recruitment effort.
On the eve of the world’s largest aerospace business development and trade show, Secretary Canfield said Alabama’s aerospace sector is primed for growth. As Airbus is preparing to launch passenger jet assembly in Mobile, other major companies, including Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, are expanding their Alabama operations.
“Let’s go,” he told the Alabama group at the breakfast.
Mike Lanier, president of Birmingham-based Hoar Program Management, urged the Alabama delegation to capitalize on Airbus’ production launch, which is expected in coming weeks. His firm oversaw the construction of the company’s $600 million A320 family assembly line at Mobile Aeroplex, a project that is wrapping up after two years.
“It’s a big story. Everybody is talking about us,” Lanier told the group. “Alabama is the buzz of the industry.”
FLIGHT PLAN FOR GROWTH
Secretary Canfield said expanding the state’s aerospace sector is a key goal of Accelerate Alabama, the strategic economic development growth plan approved by Governor Robert Bentley. Since the plan’s adoption in 2012, Alabama has secured around 35 projects in the aerospace/defense sector that involved more than 3,500 new job announcements and new capital investment approaching $900 million.
Secretary Canfield and Bob Smith, the assistant director of business development – European strategy, make up the Alabama Department of Commerce recruitment team on the ground at Le Bourget, the famous airport that hosts the air show. They have a list of scheduled meetings with high-ranking executives and decision-makers from aerospace companies that already have a presence in Alabama and others that might one day be looking to expand.
Secretary Canfield said the international air shows in Europe – the Paris show alternates years with the Farnborough show in the U.K. – are an important part of Commerce’s push to expand the aerospace sector in the state, particularly as Airbus gears up to produce its first Alabama-made passenger jet in Mobile.
“At the Farnborough International Airshow in 2014, not only did Commerce engage in more than 20 meetings with some of the world’s leading aerospace and aviation industry companies, but we also raised Alabama’s profile in this sector by making three project announcements involving 700 new jobs,” he said. “One of those projects – GE Aviation’s decision to bring high-volume additive manufacturing (3-D printing) to its Auburn plant – began with talks at the Paris Air Show in 2013.”
Representatives from communities and organizations from around the state have structured their own meeting agendas for the air show’s business-development phase, which begins Monday and runs through Wednesday. They also will participate in networking events attended by aerospace executives and top government officials.
Roger Wehner, executive director of the Mobile Airport Authority, which operates Mobile Aeroplex and the Mobile Regional Airport, is one of those. On Saturday night, Wehner and his group hosted a dinner at a Paris restaurant for aviation suppliers, briefing them on developments at the industrial complex. A similar dinner took place Friday night.
“It went very well, just helping them to understand what’s going on in terms of increasing the capability set of the airport, increasing the amenity set at the Aeroplex and really building the aerospace cluster that we all want to see created,” he said after the breakfast this morning.
Wehner also shared information about an effort to engage Mobile school children in STEM education and a new approach to build a pipeline of future aerospace and aviation workers by capturing their imaginations while they’re kids.
“We’re trying to build a holistic workforce development model that starts not just people turning the wrench tomorrow but turning the wrench five, six years from now,” Wehner said.