Southeast Alabama has a long history of successful aerospace operations, and its business and government leaders hope to build on that legacy with new jobs and investments.

Representatives from Dothan, Enterprise, Andalusia and elsewhere in the region are part of the Alabama economic development team that will court business prospects at the Farnborough International Airshow near London over the next week. Gov. Robert Bentley is leading the mission.

Major industry players, including Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky, Arista Aviation, Vector Aerospace and Commercial Jet Inc., already dot the landscape around southeast Alabama.

Commercial Jet Inc. launched an MRO operation at the Dothan Regional Airport that will eventually have 500 workers. (contributed)

Commercial Jet Inc. launched an MRO operation at the Dothan Regional Airport that will eventually have 500 workers. (contributed)

From refurbishing military helicopters and passenger jets to manufacturing precision components for aerospace and defense customers, the companies in the region are playing a key role in the transformation of aviation in the U.S.

Other industry assets in the area include Fort Rucker, home of helicopter pilot training for the U.S. Army, as well as the Alabama Aviation Center, a training program of the state’s two-year college system.

Key advantages

At Farnborough, the mission is to showcase Alabama as a premiere aviation/aerospace center, said Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Alabama is uniquely positioned with maintenance, repair and overhaul operations, new manufacturing of aircraft with Airbus and our defense/military facilities, which cover the full gamut for aviation/aerospace,” he said.

As for southeast Alabama, there are several airports suitable for handling maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), new assembly and corporate MRO work, he said. Another plus is regional workforce training programs.

“The presence of the Alabama Aviation Technical College in Ozark is a major training center to support our growth in aviation, avionics and composite technology. Also, our high school technical programs are building a strong foundation in our workforce to continue to support this growth,” Parker said.

The Alabama Aviation Center’s training programs are central to the aerospace sector in southeast Alabama. (contributed)

The Alabama Aviation Center’s training programs are central to the aerospace sector in southeast Alabama. (contributed)

A capable workforce is a key advantage for the region, Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell said.

Multiple layers of training programs that provide a solid foundation, as well as attractive pay rates, set the community apart.

“That, I think elevates us more than anything else: being able to provide that quality worker,” he said.

Invested in aerospace

Boswell said Farnborough is an opportunity to reconnect with companies that already call the region home and to seek out new connections.

“As always, I’m very excited to meet our existing friends as well as network with new friends, so there’s a two-fold potential as we let them know that Enterprise, Alabama, is open for business,” he said.

Another key advantage for southeast Alabama is its location, said Rick Clifton, president and chief executive of the Covington County Economic Development Commission.

“We are centrally located in the Southeastern United States aerospace corridor with access to many aerospace companies, including Boeing in South Carolina, Gulfstream in Georgia, the aerospace companies in Florida and the Airbus 320 Final Assembly Line in Mobile,” he said.

Covington County has invested heavily in aerospace, Clifton continued.

“We want industry to know we have facilities and a workforce that would enable them to locate easily in the southeastern United States. Our location would fit for suppliers working with Airbus, which is 90 miles away, and our location is such to easily reach the entire eastern part of the country,” Clifton said.

“The potential is to partner with industry in such a way as to help them succeed: Their success is our success.”

Aviation heritage

Infrastructure, workforce and location are all important advantages for southeast Alabama, but the region also possesses another important quality, said Wiley Lott, director of External Affairs and Economic Development for Southeast Alabama Gas District.

Aerospace and aviation are part of the area’s DNA, he said, with generations of families who have worked in the field, from sheet metal fabricators and flight system engineers to plane mechanics and helicopter pilots.

“We have a proven track record,” Lott said. “Southeast Alabama is not an unknown quantity because of the successful companies we’ve got. And we want to send the message to other companies: Come be a part of our success.”