Bay County business leaders and local officials gathered May 9 at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City Beach to officially welcome the GKN Aerospace manufacturing facility at VentureCrossings Enterprise Center. The addition of the aerospace manufacturing company represents a $55 million capital investment that will create an estimated 170 new highly skilled jobs for the region with an average salary of $65,000.
Wayne Stubbs, chair of the Bay Economic Development Alliance and Executive director of Port Panama City, said this is an example of how the EDA partners with different agencies every day across the region to improve the local economy and invite new industry to the area.
“When we are successful, we can bring millions of dollars of goods and services to the area, and millions in new wages,” he said to the more than 100 community members gathered. “In this case, we are bringing in 170 new, high-tech and high-paying jobs to the region.”
According to Stubbs, it took a regional effort to attract the international aviation supply manufacturer to Bay County. The project was originally titled Project Gondola for more than a year while several partners worked together to help land the deal. Among the groups that worked with Bay Economic Development Alliance to attract the global engineering business were Enterprise Florida, Gulf Power, University of West Florida, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the St. Joe Company, Bay County Board of County Commissioners, CareerSource Florida, CareerSource Gulf Coast and Gulf Coast State College.
“GKN could have gone anywhere in the world, but they chose Bay County,” added Stubbs in front of the 135,000-square-foot Bay County facility, which should open in 2018. “This is an example of what can happen when many groups of people came together to make something happen.”
Echoing his sentiments, Mike Grunza, CEO of GKN Aerospace’s Aerostructures’ North America business, said that while many manufacturers are leaving the United States for foreign countries, the company was impressed at how the region is ready for industry growth, including a job-ready pipeline, infrastructure and its location to transportation sources such as the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.
“We looked around at locations both inside and outside the U.S. and there was no better partnership than here in Florida,” said Grunza. “This investment emphasizes our commitment to manufacturing in North America, as this new world-class facility will create jobs and strengthen our competitive position in the U.S. aerospace market for the future.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott pointed out that the state has doubled in job growth rate the past few years, in fact, adding 60,000 jobs in the first quarter of this year. But it’s not everyday that a community gets to add 170 high-paying jobs and $50 million investment. And, he added, Gulf Power was instrumental in helping land the aerospace company in Northwest Florida.
“Gulf Power is a champion of economic development and active in the state and region,” he said. “They are a great partner and do a great job. Without Gulf Power’s vision and certified sites, this never would have happened.”
GKN Aerospace, is the first company to locate on The St. Joe Company’s VentureCrossings certified site. The VentureCrossings site is one of nine industrial locations that have been certified through Gulf Power’s Florida First Sites program, and is the second out of the nine sites to attract a manufacturing business.
Launched by Gulf Power, Florida First Sites are certified project-ready industrial sites located across Northwest Florida. The program was originally created in 2013 to help communities prepare locations to attract new industries and new jobs to the region.
GKN, a global company headquartered in Redditch, United Kingdom, employees 58,000 people in 30 countries, and operates three divisions: aerospace, driveline and powder metallurgy. The aerospace division, under which the Bay County facility will operate, is an aircraft supplier for both military and commercial customers. The division builds aerostructure, engine systems and special products, including canopies for F-22 and F-35 jets.
In 2015, the company’s aerospace sales were about $4.5 billion from 62 locations, of which 55 are manufacturing locations.