Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week in review (9/7 to 9/13)

An aerospace company with an operation in Mobile inked an agreement to open a second operation in Pensacola; a nod from the Ex-Im Bank chief to apply export financing for any Mobile-built A320 that's sold overseas; a fast-track work program for Dothan's Commercial Jet; a ribbon cutting for a weapons development research institute in Fort Walton Beach; and a visit to the region by NASA's chief were among the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor stories during the week.

Here's your week in review:

The U.S. Export-Import Bank, which may or may not last beyond the Sept. 30 deadline, would provide financing for exports of Mobile-built Airbus jetliners, provided they are built with sufficient content from domestic suppliers. That's what Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg said at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington during the week.

The bank, which supports loans for U.S. manufacturers selling products to foreign companies, is the subject of a debate over whether Congress should renew its authority to operate beyond the end of this month.

Close to half the bank's financial exposure is for jetliners made by Airbus rival Boeing and sold to overseas airline companies. It became clear once Airbus decided to build an A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala., that at some point those planes might be sold to overseas customers, and that it might want to get Ex-Im Bank backing.

The Mobile plant will make its first plane delivery in 2016, and it intends at this point to sell the Alabama-built planes to U.S. airlines. Now the door is open for U.S. export credit support for foreign airlines interested in those planes. Airbus has said the U.S. supplies more than 40 percent of its aircraft-related purchasing, and while Hochberg did not provide a threshhold percentages, that's a significant percentage. (Post)

-- Speaking of suppliers, here's an item from the Mobile paper. It said Airbus Americas chose a Grand Rapids., Mich., company to furnish and provide space design for the A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile. Steelcase Inc. will design a variety of individual and team spaces for all assembly line work areas at the FAL, and then manufacture and provide furniture from its other facilities, including one in Athens, Ala. (Post)

Economic development
The city of Pensacola, Fla., signed a lease with VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering to establish a 300-employee maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Pensacola International Airport. The city will build a hangar complex on 18.66 acres and lease it to VT MAE for 30 years. The complex will be big enough for two wide-body aircraft and is expected to be ready for operations in 2016. VT MAE, a subsidiary of Singapore's ST Engineering, has an larger MRO at Alabama's Mobile Aeroplex. (Post)

That brings me to a comment made during the week by Lee Lawson, executive director of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance. According to the Mobile paper, Lawson was speaking at an economic development meeting in Mobile and pointed out that Baldwin County has a lot of lifestyle options, from beaches to rural areas, along with plenty of shovel-ready sites to lure prospects. But Lawson said he really could use large buildings and office space for prospects who aren't interested in building from scratch. (Post)

We've heard that lament before. More than a year ago Neal Wade, the Bay County Economic Development Alliance director, said Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport near Panama City needs new hangars to lure aerospace companies. Even earlier, Wade pointed out that Commercial Jet, an MRO company, opened a facility at Alabama's Dothan Regional Airport because they had hangars available.

A good point, and one that's of interest to a lot of economic development officials in the region.

-- Since I mentioned Commercial Jet, there was another story involving that company during the week. Dothan and the company now have a new fast-track work program. Called the CJET Academy, it partners Commercial Jet with Alabama Industrial Development Training, the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce and others in a training course allowing selected applicants to complete a free eight-week training course and receive a job offer from Commercial Jet upon graduation. (Post)

-- While we are on the subject of airports, Mobile Regional Airport in Alabama is continuing with facility renovations, and more work will begin Sept. 15. It's a road construction project that will be finished in phases and will involve closing all lanes of traffic on the departures side of the terminal. Departure and arrival traffic will operate on the arrivals side of the terminal. (Post)

-- In another economic development item during the week, three states with a piece of the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor were listed as among the Top States for Doing Business. In the fifth annual survey of site consultants by the publication Area Development, Alabama was ranked No. 4, Louisiana No. 6 and Mississippi No. 10. (Post)

The Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had an official ribbon cutting ceremony early in the week at Fort Walton Beach's Doolittle Institute, an organization in the works for several years that brings together military, business and academic experts to collaborate on munitions and weapons research. It’s located at Uptown Station on Eglin Parkway. (Post)

-- The television program "Mysteries at the Museum" is aired a story about a small plane on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The two-seat Cessna was used to evacuate a South Vietnamese family of seven during the fall of Saigon in 1975. What makes the plane noteworthy is the pilot managed to land the single-engine plane on the deck of the carrier USS Midway. If you missed it Friday, no doubt you can see it in repeats. (Post)

-- The Air Force launched its new "I am an American Airman" recruiting campaign this month. One of the commercials features current active duty airmen from Northwest Florida's Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field. The commercials will be broadcast on major cable television and prime-time channels. (Post)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was in New Orleans and South Mississippi at the end of the week for events marking NASA's Space Launch System program. He was at the ribbon cutting for the newly finished Vertical Assembly Center at Michoud Assembly Facility in east New Orleans. It will be used to build the core stage of the SLS.

Bolden also went to Stennis Space Center, Miss., some 40 miles away from Michoud, to talk to the media at the base of the historic B-2 Test Stand. That stand was used to test the S-1C stage on the Saturn V moon rocket and the Space Shuttle engines. The stand will next be used to test the four RS-25 engines. (Post ; Sun Herald update; Times-Picayune letter to the editor update by director of Marshall Space Flight Center)

-- NASA picked 23 proposals from small business and research institution teams to continue the development of innovative technologies that will support future agency missions and may prove viable as commercial products and services. Two proposals involve technology being administered by the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Rolling Meadows, Ill., was awarded a $28 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the Large Aircraft Infrared Counter Measures C-130 Group A Kits and Installations. The contractor will provide the kits and the associated installations to 28 C-130 aircraft (11 AC-130H, 12 MC-130U, and five EC-130J). Work will be performed at Crestview, Fla., and is expected to be completed by April 30, 2017.

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