Movement to the next step of expanding ST Engineering’s presence in Northwest Florida appears to be going forward, according to Mayor Grover Robinson at his weekly media briefing.
At the start of the meeting, the local media treated the Mayor — who turned 49 on Monday — to a not-so-grand version of “Happy Birthday.”
“Clearly this room is not going to become a choir,” joked Robinson. “We’re not going to end up forming a choir.”
Down to business, Robinson discussed last week’s City Council and Escambia County Commission votes, which provide an extra $5 million each for “Project Titan” – the expansion of ST Engineering adjacent to Pensacola International Airport. The city already was liable for $2.5 million in funding.
“We can take the responsibility for the additional $2.5 [million dollars],” said Robinson. “That means we would take the responsibility of raising over the next five years. Both our state and federal lobbyist say that should be something that’s fairly manageable. Last year we had a $6 million dollar request; we got two million dollars. We’ve got a $6 million dollar request in for appropriations this year; we’ll see what we get.”
Then on Friday, Triumph Gulf Coast – which oversees money collected from BP for the Deepwater Horizon explosion – granted Project Titan another $10 million and canceled the March 31 deadline for all other funding to be in place. Now, agreement on a new contract is needed, involving ST Engineering, City of Pensacola and the Florida Department of Transportation. The ST Board meets on Thursday.
“They’re going to move on the contract; the question is where they’re going to put it,” said Robinson. “I know they’ve got some analyst meetings coming over with their stock stuff, so they want to have all this finalized and know they were going. It was very much, ‘if we get the letter from DOT, we’re ready to be moving forward.’”
Triumph's original $56 million grant award mandated Pensacola create at least 1,325 jobs and keep them for at least three years. That commitment is now seven years. And the uncertainty of funding from FDOT appears to have been removed, thanks to some key votes.
“That’s $20 million, so everything that’s been sort of predicated on getting this, and we’ve had every indication – every time we’ve talked to people they’ve been very favorable,” the Mayor said. “And hoping that now that we’ve covered those three hurdles we had to get over, they will come in and commit to that final portion.”
Another issue is ST’s desire to spread out the jobs created by the expansion throughout northwest Florida. The Mayor sees no problem with that.
“If we only need 1,500 workers and we have 3,000 people getting certification, that’s another 1,500 workers that somebody else can find,” said Robinson.
Robinson believes that in this case, the jobs will be created and then people will be trained in them. If more workers are trained than needed, more jobs will come to the area. For an example, he points to Alabama’s automotive investments – Mercedes-Benz, followed by Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, along with an expanding network of automotive suppliers.
“Where they’ve created a cluster of automotive, we’re trying to look at aviation,” said Mayor Grover Robinson. “Some people complained about this. I lived in Birmingham and a lot of people complained about the Mercedes contract that the State of Alabama gave them. Clearly, that has leveraged that state and their workforce significantly.
“We’re hoping this will do the same thing for us in aviation.”