In his first Monday news conference in three weeks, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson delivered a look at his recent trip to Singapore, and to the home office of ST Aerospace.
Speaking to the media, Robinson said he “could not me more impressed,” going there with the feeling that the things the city’s doing with ST Engineering and their working relationship, but also “blown away” by what else he saw there.
Joined by Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender and Scott Luth, CEO of Florida West, the mayor called the trip a “valuable experience” for the city -- building forward with what he believes is more opportunity in both new and existing fields.
“Whether it’s what we do with workforce development and looking at their models; also looking at other opportunities to bring other parts of ST to both North America, and in particular Northwest Florida,” said the mayor. “We continue to try to work with them and see what we can do to get their North American headquarters here to Pensacola. So, we continue to work on all those fronts with them.”
The group toured the Airman Academy – part of the mandatory, two-year military commitment for men in Singapore – which provides a start to training in avionics and aircraft maintenance. Robinson likens that to the training offered by ST Engineering in Pensacola.
“I think that is perhaps the most critical part to this,” said Robinson. “It gives us the chance for individuals, if you want to transfer out of generational poverty, the educational opportunity to get skills for this airman academy [can] give you that opportunity. And what we need to do is to transform our self, we need to give our people more skills. And I think that airman academy was very impressive and I think it will be very exciting to see what happens here.”
It’s a matter of officials there turning amenities into commerce, says the mayor. One of the PowerPoint slides featured an area on the Singapore River called Clark Key – an entertainment district right on the water.
“You can walk all the way over from Marina Bay, and it’s very pedestrian/bike friendly, and also has the waterfront amenities on the boats,” Robinson said. “This kind of shows you what you can do when you create good amenities, you eventually have commerce come in. And that creates a tax base, by which you can continue to provide other services.”
Besides meeting with the ST hierarchy and attending a major air show. Robinson’s PowerPoint also included looks at some green spaces that they feel some of which could be duplicated in Pensacola.
“Incredible waterfront development; public access opportunities dealing with more walkable communities,” the mayor said. “A lot of things we’re trying to do in our downtown right now is seeing them actually done. The other thing is just finding ways to work together.”
Such meetings, says the mayor, are essential to establishing and maintaining a good working relationship, as well as learning from the individuals in Singapore. And he adds there’s a lot to learn.
“They’re definitely different; there are some things there that we would not be able to do there and I’m not encouraging those things,” said Robinson. “They’re very free market; they’re a little bit different in their approach on democracy. But, I still found everything to be an incredible learning experience for me, and I think there are a lot of things that [bear] fruit as we move forward.”
One park shown in the PowerPoint is named after Chang Ang Sang – a Chinese merchant when Singapore was a British colony – caught Robinson’s attention.
“These are some things I’d love to see us do, with markers that tell a better story,” said the mayor. “Some of the things I’ve been talking about Belmont/DeVilliers and Tanyard area, how we do a better job of telling the story on some of those things. But also, you can see it’s incredibly lush. If you look at Singapore, there are trees everywhere.”
The bill for Mayor Grover Robinson’s trip to Singapore is said to be somewhere between $7,000 and $8,000 -- which, he says, was paid by a Pensacola International Airport fund, and not with taxpayer dollars.