In his Monday morning news conference, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson delivered an update on efforts to get funding for “Project Titan" – the expansion of the current ST Engineering facility.
The goal is to raise $25 million as part of the local share of the total price tag of $210 million. That would include five million from the city’s Local Option Sales Tax; five million dollars from the county bringing that total to ten million, and $15 million in BP settlement money from Triumph Gulf Coast.
Robinson’s also reaching out to the state.
“We also met last week, had a very good meeting in Chipley with the Sec. of the [Department of Transportation]; we also met with CFO Jimmy Patronis,” said Robinson. “We also met with Rep. [Alex] Andrade and Sen. [Doug] Broxson; both of whom were very supportive, and were willing to put forward initiatives of support for Project Titan.”
Expanding the ST plant by two more hangars — 655,000 square feet — is projected to create another 1,300 jobs, along with office, warehouse and shop space. But the Mayor adds that, while they got generally positive vibes from the state, they’re expecting a waiting period.
“[The state] can’t do it this year, but they could get us into the work plan and they will be working to get us the remainder of the funds that we need as we move forward.”
Despite the strong presence of military aviation in the Pensacola area, it’s never been known as a player in the civilian industry. Part of that, says Robinson, is because there’s been a lack of such training and through that a lack of jobs. ST is hoping to change that.
“Some of the people that have been employed for a while [at ST Engineering] will be able to work somewhere else; so there will always be attrition that will have to be taken up,” said Robinson. “They know they’re going to have to train 50 percent more than what they’re going to need themselves. So we’re going to become a center for training in aviation and mechanics. Where we’re going in economic development in the future is where you can get the talent.”
Part of that talent search is bringing programs to Pensacola-area high schools. The hub, at that level, is Booker T. Washington.
“They’re also looking at all the schools that in-flow into Washington, from middle into elementary,” said the Mayor. “Most of your schools in the city will be a part of that plane, there will also be some in [Escambia] count, obviously. All of those schools will have the opportunity to go through the aviation [programs] which I think will begin to make us stronger as we figure out how to get people trained.”
Robinson concedes that not everyone will join the airline industry’s workforce; but if there are some people trained in those skills, there will be plenty of opportunities to build elsewhere.
“When you get a manufacturing job, it leads to, I believe, about another two and a half jobs – that what the study shows,” Robinson said. “I think our 1,300 jobs spins [sic] out to about 4,200 jobs. So, there are going to be other jobs that come out in the market that we don’t know how they came about, but they’ll be there.”
One example the Mayor offers is what happened with Navy Federal Credit Union and Escambia County when he was a member of the County Commission. Navy Federal has grown and enabled local residents to begin their own startup jobs, rather than leaving the area.
“When I look at Navy Federal I remember they were one building; then they were three buildings, then they wanted to do a mega-campus and promise 10,000 employees,” said Robinson. “We will have [ST] office jobs; we will now have an opportunity for you. And it won’t just be in Pensacola; it will be all of northwest Florida.”
Expanding ST Engineering, contends Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, will also benefit airports in Okaloosa and Bay Counties at some point – as an entire “aviation corridor” is developed for the region.
“The hardest lift is getting that first one in,” said the Mayor. “When we got the first hangar done, everybody said, ‘oh, OK you got one hangar there.’ Well now, we’ve got the chance to get three more. If you just do these little things, opportunities break for you.”
The plan now is for the city of Pensacola and ST Engineering to begin development of the new hangars in about three years. When up and running, ST and its new jobs are projected to add another $400 million to the local economy.