Local business leaders carry message to Airbus: Northwest Florida has what it takes to be a strong contender in the international aerospace industry.

Northwest Florida has what it takes to be a strong contender in the international aerospace industry — and business and community leaders from the 850 region are personally delivering that message to the world’s top aerospace companies.

While many headed to Hamburg, Germany, on Sunday for two days of meetings scheduled to start today, a group arrived last week to attend the third annual Global Aviation Supply Chain Conference in Hamburg. The conference, with more than 400 attendees that included delegations from China and the U.S., brought together European aerospace suppliers and gave Northwest Florida leaders the opportunity to begin building business bridges.  Among the topics discussed were globalized supply chains in China, Europe and the U.S. and specifically Airbus production in Mobile, Ala.

“The conference provided us the opportunity to receive the most up-to-date information on the long-term growth strategies for the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world, in addition to meeting one-on-one with tier 1, 2 and 3 aviation parts suppliers,” said Scott Luth, senior vice president of Economic Development for the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.

The five Florida counties (Bay, Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia) closest to the new Airbus plant under construction in Mobile have formed the Gulf Coast Aerospace Coalition to promote Northwest Florida’s strategic location for aerospace providers. The Airbus facility is expected to begin production in 2015.

 “With more than 430 guests in attendance, among those more than 50 Airbus managers, our region is being branded as the perfect aerospace climate to European aerospace executives.” said Shannon Ogletree, director of the Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office.

Regional economic development leaders believe that the two weeks of meetings will set the tone for Northwest Florida’s future success in the aviation sector. One of the messages they are delivering to the world is that the area is perfectly situated on major transportation corridors to service the entire Southeastern U.S. and that it is also home to a major workforce resource — thousands who leave the military but want to continue living and working in Florida.

Florida’s Great Northwest was a Location Partner for the conference. Other states participating included Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

“Between this week's Global Aviation Supply Chain Conference hosted by Airbus and sponsored by Florida's Great Northwest, and next week's International Aerospace Forum involving Northwest Florida leaders, we view this as our region's ‘coming out’ party for the European aerospace industry," Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, reflected last week.

Steve Jaeger, executive director of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance, said those attending hope to emerge from the two weeks of meetings with a strong sense for how aerospace suppliers feel about gaining a foothold in the U.S., especially in Florida.

“With the location of five major aerospace facilities in the Southeast and the strategic advantages of the I-10 corridor, I believe this event will energize our Northwest Florida business leaders and elected officials about our area’s opportunities in the aerospace industry,” he said.

Besides the Airbus plant in Mobile, which is 50 miles west of Pensacola, the Southeast U.S. is also home to: Boeing in Charleston, S.C.; Gulfstream in Savannah, Ga.; and Embraer in Melbourne and Jacksonville.

Today the group will hear from aerospace leaders from throughout Germany on the future of the European aerospace industry and the potential for companies to begin expanding to the U.S. Tomorrow, Airbus and Lufthansa Technical Training will provide briefings and tours for the group to better understand how Europe assembles airplanes and trains workers.

This week’s sessions will help those attending better understand the unique opportunity offered by Northwest Florida as the region continues to grow the aerospace cluster, said Neal Wade, executive director of the Bay Economic Development Alliance.

“This effort begins an intense effort in 2014 to market the region to all types of aviation companies,” Wade said.

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