Experts: Greater Miami can support new aviation manufacturer
By Risa Polansky
A new aviation manufacturer could really take off in Greater Miami, experts say, supported by plentiful training programs, existing repair operations and the industry's deep local roots.
Miami-Dade County is attempting to lure to the Opa-locka Executive Airport a German manufacturer that plans to establish an international headquarters and build a fully certified aircraft.
The company — whose name is not made public during the courting process — would create 410 jobs.
"It would be a great economic windfall," said Dan Sullivan, president of the Greater Miami Aviation Association and board member of the Miami Maintenance Management Council.
"It would impact more than just adding 400 jobs because they'll need support services."
South Florida has a strong base of certified aviation repair stations — a higher percentage clustered here than anywhere else in the country, he said.
He expects the new manufacturer would likely utilize them for parts.
And the company should be able to hire its hundreds of new employees without looking outside of South Florida.
"I believe they'd find the manpower here," Mr. Sullivan said.
The manufacturer listed "human resources assistance" as an important factor in deciding where to set up shop, according to county documents. It's also considering establishing its headquarters in Long Beach, CA; North and South Carolina, the United Arab Emirates, Croatia and Indonesia.
But here in South Florida, "in regards to training, you've got a fantastic group of schools in the area that can meet those kinds of needs," including Miami Dade College's School of Aviation, Broward Community College's Aviation Institute, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the George T. Baker Aviation School, said Baker Principal Sean Gallagan.
"The availability of potential employees is a good market right now."
At Baker, almost 1,000 students are enrolled now in technical courses.
"We cannot graduate enough students right now to fill the local demand," Mr. Gallagan said. "The demand for repairs, for repair stations, is continuing very strong."
Steven Daun, vice president of sales and marketing for Aeroservice Aviation
Center, said the school should be a draw for companies.
"It's a resource that most communities don't have and wish they would."
And that's not Miami's only advantage, he said.
"It makes sense that they (the German manufacturer) would want to be in Miami. For a long time Miami has been the hub of aviation... just look at the size of the airport and the history of aviation in Miami, so it's no surprise they'd want to start a manufacturing company here. The city was built on aviation."
And Miami's location alone offers an advantage to companies based here: "the ability to hit the Caribbean, South America, Europe and the US from a central hub," Mr. Daun said.
Mr. Gallagan said the same.
"We're the center post to the Caribbean, South America, all of Latin America."
Companies are eyeing the US — and favoring Miami — because of the value of the dollar, he said.
"A lot of countries are exporting to us in order to do the repair and maintenance. We have the facilities; we already have the infrastructure in place. We have the expertise here."
Miami-Dade also has the space, said Tom Jargiello, project manager for Airside International Business Park at the Opa-locka airport.
Airside is leasing 250 acres from the county and plans to make a $200 million to $250 million capital investment there.
The German manufacturer is looking for 250,000 square feet.
"We have more than enough land to accommodate this project," Mr. Jargiello said. "We have entered in preliminary discussions with the company."
He also could not share its name.
Airside has made "hundreds" of aviation and non-aviation-related contacts in its 15-month existence, he said, and he expects soon at least a half-dozen letters of intent that should lead to leases.
It's clear the aviation industry is thriving in Miami-Dade, the experts maintained, though state data suggest otherwise.
Mr. Gallagan called the idea that the industry is declining simply a "perception. It's more than just planes in the air. It's the continuous repair of the aircraft."
He also echoed Mr. Sullivan's point that South Florida boasts the country's highest percentage of repair operations and said that, as the industry "continues to grow" and much of the current aviation workforce begins retiring, opportunities will be abound for would-be technical workers.
"From my point of view, times are good," he said.
A local study of aviation companies by the Beacon Council, the county's economic development arm, showed that, of 40 survey respondents, more than 35% intend to grow their facilities over the next 12 months.
Eighty percent reported entry salaries of more than $10 per hour with the majority in the $15 to $25 per hour range. Average hourly pay is $20 to $25.
The German manufacturer would pay employees a $57,000 annual salary, county documents say.
"Miami's lost a lot of the status, if you will, internally of what aviation means to the city," Mr. Daun said — but landing the new manufacturing company could help change things.
"I think it'll help get Miami back to where it was as far as the status and the influence it has in aviation, absolutely."
The manufacturing company is to choose a location by fall and could begin hiring by winter, according to county documents.
Construction would begin in January.