Jet manufacturer wants to build plant in Opa-locka; seeks temporary office space, tax incentives
Safire Aircraft Co. wants to build a $40 million jet manufacturing plant near Opa-locka Airport if Miami-Dade aviation officials will offer temporary office space.
Planning to hire about 1,000 persons in four years, the West Palm Beach company says it will choose next week between Miami and Jacksonville. On Tuesday, Miami-Dade commissioners approved $720,000 in tax refunds to be paid from 2004 to 2007, but company officials want a deal for two-year office space for about 100 engineers until an assembly plant can be built.
Also pending is the state's approval of its share of the business incentive plan - an additional $2.9 million in tax abatements.
Camilo Salomon, Safire CEO, said Monday his group prefers Opa-locka to Jacksonville because the area is open for development and a building could be designed to suit his company's needs.
Safire officials plan in four years to occupy a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing plant with office and storage space. The group plans to sign a 20- to 30-year lease for space and equipment, he said.
"Instead of building our own facility," Mr. Salomon said, with a lease "we will be able to use that capital to manufacture more aircraft. We will also pay for the equipment in 20 to 30 years instead of paying it off in seven or 10 years."
The firm plans to assemble S-26 twin-engine jets with six-person capacity, he said. The company's first flight is scheduled for February 2004 and it hopes to deliver aircraft by 2006.
The group has yet to obtain the Federal Aviation Administration's OK.
Safire last month agreed with a Swiss syndicate to finance the company's prototype, which will be used to obtain FAA certification and for sales, Mr. Salomon said.
"We already have close to 1,000 orders in place," he said.
After securing temporary space, Safire is to hire about 100 engineers within 60 days at an average of $45,000 a year, he said. Once manufacturing starts, he said, about 1,100 jets could hit the market every year at prices of $1 million to $1.5 million.
Opa-locka airport's location within the county's Empowerment Zone - which offers a variety of added incentives - is an important edge over Jacksonville, Mr. Salomon said.
Manuel Martinez of Opa-locka Community Development Corp., a nonprofit group that manages a business park east of the airport, said those incentives include county property and utility tax abatements, refund of impact fees and county building-permit aid and other state-sponsored enticements. The empowerment zone is a federal program that helps rebuild neighborhoods with high unemployment.
But Safire may face a space problem here, said Frank Nero, CEO of the Beacon Council, the county economic development agency. He said he would know next week if temporary space can be made available.
Mayra Bustamante, assistant aviation director, said her office was already working with Safire to find office space in county buildings at Opa-locka airport as well as in nearby air parks.