Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson’s on the way to Singapore, to meet with officials at ST Aerospace and discuss a number of ongoing efforts.
Robinson, Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender, and Scott Luth of Florida West – departed Pensacola on Thursday. The mayor says they’re expecting to see a lot of ST’s operations, spending a day at several locations and seeing what they do within aviation and other areas.
One of the topics on tap is workforce development. Robinson says trained workers are needed for the four hangars that will make up the Pensacola maintenance-repair-overhaul – MRO – facility – aka “Project Titan.” The first hangar opened about a year and a half ago adjacent to Pensacola International Airport.
“Working with ST, they’re going to be more than happy to take responsibility on [training]; they’ve got to get the certifications out there, ready to get that started,” said Robinson. “So I think that’s one of the things we’ve been talking about [as] we continue to work. I’m sure at some point those will be discussions we’re having.”
Bill Hafner – who leads ST Engineering in Pensacola – said last summer that the grant and matching dollars make it possible for ST to operate and help develop the region’s economy, through a workforce expected to exceed 2,000 members.
“We’re going to have a lot of opportunities for the folks in Northwest Florida and the city of Pensacola,” said Hafner. “We’re going to have procurement here; we’re going to have engineering staff here. We’re going to have facilities maintenance and ground support staff here. Planning, quality assurance, quality control. Varied and broad opportunities for the people of Northwest Florida to come work with us here.”
And Hafner says there’s more to ST than just refurbishing aircraft.
“Maintenance is obviously our core business and that’s where most of the jobs will be – that’s what we do,” said Hafner. “But there’s also many other opportunities here; materials work, procurement, planning, finance, human resources, training, facilities and many other jobs. So if you’re not core maintenance, there’s still many other opportunities at this facility for folks of different disciplines.”
Hafner and other ST officials have said that they want to train workers, with both an eye on the future and on attrition, knowing that not all of them will stay in Pensacola. The mayor says that’s roughly twice the number of people who eventually will work here.
“ST acknowledges that for 1,700 jobs they’ll have to train 3,400 people,” said Robinson. “If you have that many people who are trained with certifications, there will be other people who will want to come here. And we see a cluster of an MRO group happening [in] both marine and aviation in this region.”
Another visit to Triumph Gulf Coast – the main purse string for money from the BP oil spill settlement – could be in order, says Robinson. Triumph provided money for Project Titan. The number now being tossed around is another $3.5 million to fund ST-related workforce training, after being rejected by the Escambia County School Board.
“I understand the school board was concerned about the number of certifications; I can assure you that ST has no concerns; they have to teach those kids, they have to get the education done,” Robinson said. “So I think they will come forward; the city will be their sponsor. That will be coming forward in the near future.”
Another pitch the city of Pensacola plans to make is to be involved in ST’s “Smart City” program. With two-thirds of ST Engineering’s growth over the next five years projected to be overseas, it’s ratcheting up its Smart City expansion plans in the United States.
“If they’re going to bring it to North America, we’d love to have them bring it here to Northwest Florida; we think that is a good fit and that’s one of the things we’ll be up there discussing,” the mayor said. “When they think of their operation in the United States we want them to think about the northern Gulf Coast. They already have a fairly good footprint here, and that’s what we really want them to focus on what they do.”
The next phase of the $210 million project is scheduled to begin this summer, and eventually will include four aircraft maintenance hangars.