Monday, October 22, 2007

Aerospace Cluster and More!

I was worn out trying to keep up on the tour of Columbus, MS as Joe Max Higgins and Allegra Brigham showed me the SeverCorr and PACCAR sites, with a combined $2 billion in investments and thousands of newly created jobs. But, those two mega-projects weren’t the only things that were happening in Columbus.

Columbus, which is also the home to the Columbus Air Force Base, trains about 500 pilots per year. Those pilots and their support personnel have helped the community to recently develop into an aerospace cluster. American Eurocopter located here in 2003 to manufacture helicopters. The Lakota Helicopter, a replacement to the Huey, is being made in Columbus. Aurora Flight Sciences, which makes UAVs (unmanned aero vehicles—also called drones) and recently won a contract for a new composite cargo plane, has a plant at the local airport. In 2007 Stark Aerospace, a division of Israeli Aircraft, announced plans for a company campus to make drones and aero-optics. Collectively, these three firms employ about 300 but projections are to exceed 1,000 within a few years. A 15 acre Aerospace & Defense Incubator is planned at the airport.

A second port on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which links the Gulf Coast with the Ohio River and other navigable rivers, is being built in Columbus. Other plants have expanded in the past few years. Columbus is on the move, at a scale that I’ve not seen in any other small town in my travels.

One final economic development note: Almost as a side note Joe Max and Allegra pointed out the site for a new 800,000 sf, $100 million shopping mall on the west side of town. While 2,000 jobs will be created and would be hailed with great glee in most towns, we all knew that real wealth is created with the other projects that are being created in Columbus. Retail will quickly follow. It doesn’t happen the other way around.

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