“We started in 2002 with one county and now are doing it regionally with twenty,” said Tuscon Roberts, head of ED for Covington County, AL (population 36,875). He was talking about the South Alabama Aviation Advantage at www.aerospace.state.al.us/saaa/ , a regional ED effort to create a cluster of aviation related businesses in the region. I was at the Heli-Expo ’06 in Dallas, TX where they were the only ED group exhibiting to recruit in new businesses. In their first three years of existence SAAA has already recruited in EADS (1,200 jobs); EJM Aerospace (350); Acrohelipro (54); and Jered (5). “Most of these jobs pay from $15 to $35 per hour, quite an increase for our area.”
Tuscon started the effort in his county because of the untapped market that he saw with all of the military bases across the state line in the Florida Panhandle. “We have a huge untapped reservoir of skilled workers because of those bases. We knew that we could take advantage of our proximity.” Their inventory of aviation related companies is 50+ and growing. The region has 30 airports, 7 with runways of longer than 5,000 feet with Airport Industrial Parks adjacent.
South Alabama is on the cutting edge of embracing new technology and working together regionally to develop a cluster of activity. I was very impressed in my brief stop at their booth at the show.