Like many in the Alabama delegation at the air show, Parker had a full dance card during the event, which draws decision-makers from thousands of aerospace companies from around the world and often sets the stage for negotiations that lead to deals.
“Farnborough is a good show for us because we have such a diverse aerospace/aviation base in Alabama and in our area,” he said.
Parker was at Farnborough accompanied by a team of economic developers and city leaders from the Wiregrass area (Southeast Alabama) that has taken aim at expanding the region’s aerospace cluster, which is centered around Fort Rucker, the primary training center for U.S. Army helicopter pilots.
Parker, who has attended six European air shows, said the Southeast Alabama team had a productive time at Farnborough this year.
“We have two active projects, and we have spent a lot of time meeting with them, pulling state officials in when we needed them and our local officials to reinforce the importance of what we’re trying to do to build our local economy and support their future operations,” he said.
Parker said the Wiregrass group devoted a full day Monday to meetings focused on those active projects, with some follow-up work on those prospects Tuesday. He also had scheduled meetings with other aerospace companies targeted by the group, providing him with a chance to outline the area’s attributes for the industry.
“Aviation, of course, is a labor-oriented industry, so one of our biggest selling points is our aviation training school that serves Mobile, north Alabama, Ozark, and the Wiregrass area,” he said. “That’s critical to cultivating the workforce that they need and the kind of projects we’re working on.”
Billy Joe Camp, a consultant with Southeast Alabama Gas District, an Andalusia-based utility coordinating the Wiregrass delegation’s Farnborough trip, said the timing is right for a push on aerospace. Airbus’ A320 Family Assembly Line project positions Alabama for growth, and the state has demonstrated that it’s a good home for a parallel advanced manufacturing industry, automotive.
To ensure that aerospace continues to take off in Alabama, Camp said, officials are working hard to “continue that close association and supportive role” to Airbus, which is investing $600 million and creating 1,000 jobs in Mobile.
“Airbus is a magnificent, multi-faceted aerospace company,” Camp said.
Parker said this year’s Farnborough mission – which included three project announcements, involving more than 700 new jobs – demonstrated a strong team approach that has been refined over the years.
“Alabama continues to get good visibility,” Camp said. “The elected leadership — Governor Bentley, our Congressional delegation members, the city leaders— it’s important to have that group together. We always get complimented because our whole state works as a team, not as regions but the whole state. That’s really important.”
Of course, the Wiregrass contingent was joined by other groups from around Alabama at the show. As in past years, Huntsville and Mobile sent teams of economic development specialists and elected leaders as those areas move to capitalize on their aerospace bases and potential. Other cities, including Auburn and Tuscaloosa, were also represented.
Here are snapshots about some other communities represented at Farnborough.
During their first visit to Farnborough, Birmingham Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan Austin wanted to connect with experienced members of the Alabama team and began positioning the state’s largest city as a potential home to aerospace companies.
“Since the announcement that Airbus was coming to Alabama, it has created a lot of excitement, a lot of buzz,” Mayor Bell said. “I just wanted to make sure as the mayor of the City of Birmingham that we had a place here to talk about the qualities of our citizens who are trained to work in those particular areas and to try to attract industries to take a look at Alabama and, in particular, Birmingham.”
Mayor Bell said a major aerospace advantage for the city is the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, the state’s largest airport that is now in the midst of a $200 million renovation. Another is the presence of large numbers of trained workers previously employed in maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) activities.
This month, Birmingham-based Graham & Co. announced that it was actively marketing the 180-acre, 1.7 million-square-foot Kaiser Aircraft facility at the Birmingham airport to aerospace prospects. The site has direct runway access and good interstate and rail connections.
“I don’t think you could find a better space already constructed that has open-door bays on each end of the building, with thousands upon thousands of square feet on the inside, as well as a lot of space on the outside,” Mayor Bell said. “That’s one of the areas we want to market to potential maintenance and repair operators.”
Austin said Birmingham is attractive to aerospace investment because of its central location in the state and an available skilled workforce. In addition, there are approximately 200 acres around the airport ready for development.
“Birmingham is really the gateway to the state of Alabama when it comes to economic development,” Austin said.
“We feel like Birmingham is in a good position to support any kind of aerospace industry,” Mayor Bell added.
He also said Birmingham used the air show to continue its efforts to secure international non-stop flights to Germany as a way to capitalize on traffic between Mercedes-Benz’s operations and the state.
Foley Mayor John Koniar said he used his “rookie visit” to Farnborough to support the efforts of a larger Baldwin County delegation. The group had between 15 and 20 appointments and meetings, and he personally participated in several of those meetings.
“We’ve made some good contacts,” Koniar said.” It’s been worthwhile.”
His city has a major aerospace presence in the form of a UTC plant with more than 800 workers that makes aircraft components for customers including Airbus, whose Alabama plant will begin production next year. Koniar said the Baldwin County group used Farnborough to position itself for any suppliers that could be looking at Alabama down the road.
“We realize it’s going to be a fairly long process,” he said. “Until they gear up (production), suppliers will probably stay where they are. As the volume increases, they will want to get closer to their customer. So we’re just planting the seeds, making ourselves known.”
Koniar said Foley offers benefits for aerospace companies.
“We have a large industrial park site and several things going for us,” he said. “Aerospace wise, it’s an advantage for us to have UTC there. We have various properties, and we have Advantage Sites. We have a good workforce, an excellent school system, and a great hospital, so we have a lot of qualities.”
Koniar said he believes this year’s Farnborough mission has been productive.
“We come to create relationship,” he said. “The relationships are what you come for.”