Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson’s Monday morning press conference primarily focused on developments at the Pensacola International Airport, where the city has partnered with ST Aerospace to create an aviation maintenance facility. Next week, the mayor will travel to Singapore to meet with ST officials and discuss these ongoing efforts.
Robinson said that one of his top priorities in Singapore would be discussing the issue of workforce development with ST officials. The company will ultimately need trained workers to fill jobs in the planned four-hangar maintenance-repair-overhaul (MRO) facility; currently, a single hangar contains the operation.
“I think this is one of the most important things,” the mayor said, explaining that ST would like to see around 3,400 workers trained in aviation maintenance to fill 1,700 jobs.
Robinson said that the city would likely approach Triumph Gulf Coast — the group charged with overseeing the expenditures of some of the oil spill restoration funds stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon event — for around $3.5 million to pay for workforce training associated with the ST project. Triumph has previously provided some of the funding used to pay for Pensacola’s MRO facility.
Originally, Triumph was poised to work with the Escambia County School District on creating workforce training programs. However, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas feared being on the hook for repaying the funds if it failed to meet training goals.
“They were concerned about having to repay the money once they’d already spent it,” Robinson said, explaining the so-called “clawback” aspect of the deal.
The mayor said that the city would approach Triumph on ST’s behalf because private companies cannot receive such public funding, but that any punitive clawback measures would fall to ST, not the city. ST, he explained, “has no concerns” about having to repay the money.
“They’re going to be more than happy to deal with the clawbacks,” Robinson said, stressing the company’s determination to follow through on the training goals. “They have to have the certifications.”
In addition to supplying ST with trained workers, the mayor said, building up the area’s pool of certified aviation workers would also serve to attract other companies in the field to the area. Eventually, local officials are hoping for an aviation hub to materialize.
“If you have that many people trained, there will be more people who want to come here,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for us to build a cluster here.”
Robinson also said he would be discussing the potential for ST to expand its footprint in the region further, possibly locating its North American headquarters in the area.
“When they think of their operations in the United States, we want them to think about the northern Gulf Coast,” the mayor said.
Also, during Monday’s presser, Robinson spoke about spending some time with work crews at the airport — picking up rocks on the runway, scattering birds from the area — and also about the facility’s growth in recent years.
“It’s just amazing to think that there are so many things going on at the airport,” Robinson said.
The mayor said that the airport currently provides service to 23 destinations, with plans to increase that count, and also maxed out its available parking.
“We’re probably looking to expand the deck,” Robinson said, explaining that the city intends to increase the capacity of the airport’s parking garage and may eventually need to increase the number of terminals at the facility. “We’re not there yet, but I’m certainly looking at the future.”